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FILE PHOTO: The ESPN logo is seen on an electronic display in Times Square in New York City
FILE PHOTO: The ESPN logo is seen on an electronic display in Times Square in New York City, U.S., August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

March 18, 2019

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The streaming digital sports service ESPN+ will become the exclusive distributor of pay-per-view events for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the United States, the companies announced on Monday.

The events will begin on April 13, almost exactly a year since parent company Walt Disney Co launched ESPN+ to retain viewers as traditional cable audiences started migrating to online services such as Netflix Inc.

ESPN+ lured 568,000 new subscribers when UFC debuted in January after the Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts promoter, a unit of Endeavor, LLC, moved fights there from Fox Sports.

By the time Disney held its quarterly earnings call with investors in February, it said ESPN+ had signed up 2 million paying subscribers. It is the model for Disney+, a streaming service for family-friendly Disney content that is supposed to launch later this year.

The UFC deal takes the traditional pay-per-view (PPV) model to a new level, giving ESPN+ subscribers exclusive access to the “biggest and most important fights,” said Russell Wolff, ESPN+ executive vice president.

He would not say how many paying subscribers ESPN+ currently has.

The deal will also give the UFC something it has never had before: data about its PPV audience, including information about who is buying event access and viewers’ propensity to purchase goods, said UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein.

Fans will be able to access UFC content in one place, rather than having to jump to different platforms as they did in the past. The agreement does not impact UFC’s commercial sales to the thousands of U.S. bars and restaurants that air its fights, Epstein said.

Monday’s UFC deal is an expansion of its previous ESPN+ agreement, which covered media rights to UFC Fight Night and now runs through 2025 along with the PPV deal.

The expanded agreement covers 12 live PPV events per year that will be streamed in high definition in English and Spanish.

PPV UFC fights will cost $59.99 per event for current ESPN+ subscribers, slightly less than the $64.99 fans usually paid in the past. New subscribers will pay $79.99 for their first PPV event and get one-year of ESPN+ access.

(This story corrects name of UFC parent company to Endeavor, LLC in third paragraph)

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Carlos Alfredo Vecchio leave the White House after their meeting in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (right) and Carlos Alfredo Vecchio, charge d’affaires appointed by Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido leave the White House after their meeting in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

March 18, 2019

By Gershon Peaks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Representatives of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido have taken control of three of the country’s diplomatic properties in the United States, Guaido’s U.S. envoy said on Monday, as the opposition presses its bid to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The envoy, Carlos Vecchio, said the opposition had gained control of two buildings belonging to Venezuela’s defense ministry in Washington and one consular building in New York. He added that the group expected to take control of Venezuela’s embassy in Washington “in the days to come.”

Guaido, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by most Western countries, including the United States.

“We are taking these steps in order to preserve the assets of the Venezuelans here in this country,” Vecchio said from one of the buildings, the office of Venezuela’s military attache to Washington, after removing a portrait of Maduro from the wall and replacing it with one of Guaido.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters the United States was “pleased to support these requests.”

In a statement, Venezuela’s foreign ministry called on U.S. authorities to “take the necessary measures to immediately reverse this forcible occupation” of its diplomatic offices. It said the transfer of possession violated international law on the protection of diplomatic properties.

Maduro, who has branded Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, broke off relations with Washington after it recognized Guaido, calling diplomatic and consular staff back to Caracas.

Of 55 staff members, 12 decided to remain in the United States and support Guaido, Vecchio said on Monday. He added that his staff would work out of the attache building, which is in the upscale Kalorama neighborhood and has an assessed value of $2.2 million, according to Washington property records.

Vecchio spoke alongside Colonel Jose Luis Silva, Venezuela’s military attache to Washington who recognized Guaido on Jan. 27. Few other high-ranking members of the military have heeded Guaido’s call to break with Maduro, who retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions.

On Monday, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters an army general had defected and fled to Colombia. Vecchio said he was confident that Venezuela, which is undergoing an economic and humanitarian crisis, was in “an irreversible process of change” but that “it won’t come easily.”

The United States withdrew all its remaining diplomatic personnel in Venezuela last week.

(Reporting by Gershon Peaks in Washington; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)

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FILE PHOTO: A Venezuelan flag hangs from a building near the national election board as acting President Maduro registered as a candidate for president in the April 14 election in Caracas
FILE PHOTO: A Venezuelan flag hangs from a building in Caracas March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo/File Photo

March 18, 2019

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the United States makes its biggest diplomatic push in Latin America in years to try to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the U.S. military is zeroing in on a byproduct of the crisis: a strengthening of Colombian rebels on both sides of Venezuela’s border.

U.S. Admiral Craig Faller, the head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command that oversees U.S. forces in Latin America, told Reuters the United States had sharpened its focus on the rebels and increased its sharing of intelligence with Colombian officials. 

U.S. officials see a growing threat from both Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that refuse to adhere to a 2016 peace agreement to end five decades of civil war.

The United States believes the rebels are taking advantage of Venezuela’s crisis to expand their reach in that country and the scope of long-standing illegal activities, including drug trafficking.

“Our principal role working with our Colombian partners is to assist in intelligence sharing. What we know, we share,” Faller said. Asked whether the intelligence sharing on the rebels had ramped up as Venezuela’s crisis deepened, Faller responded: “Absolutely.”

The risks from the insurgents on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border add another layer of complexity to the crisis in Venezuela, where U.S. President Donald Trump says all options are on the table to remove Maduro from office.

U.S. officials have uniformly emphasized diplomatic and economic tools to accelerate Maduro’s departure, like sanctions, but Faller acknowledged the U.S. military stood ready to provide options if needed.

At the same time, he noted that no U.S. allies in the region were seeking a military solution to the crisis in Venezuela.

“My job is to be ready, be on the balls of my feet, at all times. But we’ve been talking to our partners and no one, no one, thinks that a military option is a good idea,” Faller said.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido says the May 2018 vote in which Maduro won a second term was a sham and he invoked a constitutional provision on Jan. 23 to assume the interim presidency. Most Western nations including the United States have backed Guaido as head of state.

Maduro, a socialist who has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet seeking to foment a coup, retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions.

Jeremy McDermott, a Colombia-based expert on the insurgencies and co-founder of the Insight Crime think tank, said he believed the Colombian insurgents were operating in Venezuela with at least the blessing of Maduro.

The rebels’ aim is to exploit Venezuela’s lawlessness for safe haven and for economic gain, he said. But he noted there could be an added benefit for Maduro.

“If the Americans invade, or if Colombia promotes a military intervention, then they (Maduro’s supporters) would be able to call upon an insurgent force with more than 50 years of combat experience,” McDermott said.

Asked whether the United States had any evidence of communications between Maduro and the guerrilla groups, Faller said: “I’d rather not discuss the details of the exact connections but we’re watching it very closely.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry and ELN contacts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Colombia’s ambassador to Washington, former Vice President Francisco Santos, said ELN and FARC factions had long been present in Venezuela but had grown stronger and more integrated into the country as a result of Venezuela’s crisis.

“They have become the paramilitary groups of the Maduro administration,” Santos told Reuters.

ELN EXPANSION

A Cuba-inspired Marxist insurgency formed in 1964, the ELN claimed responsibility for a January car bomb attack against a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 cadets. It was an escalation by insurgents who have kidnapped Colombian security forces, attacked police stations and bombed oil pipelines.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the ELN is increasingly using Venezuelan territory to carry out narco-trafficking and illegal mining of minerals like gold and coltan.

The Venezuelan security forces were believed to be getting kickbacks from the guerrillas, they said.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. collection of intelligence on the guerrilla groups had increased in recent weeks, including looking at the militants’ activities on the Venezuelan side of the border with Colombia.

Several U.S. officials said they believed senior leaders of both the ELN and the so-called FARC dissidents who do not adhere to the peace agreement were now located inside of Venezuela.

“Their leadership is there,” a second U.S. official said, who also declined to be named, without providing evidence.

An International Crisis Group report cited estimates that the ELN had been active in a minimum of 13 of Venezuela’s 24 states, “absorbing new recruits and shifting from a guerrilla force that embraced armed resistance against Colombia’s ruling elites to one with many core operations in Venezuela.”

Opposition lawmakers in Venezuela also regularly denounce growing ELN activities in Venezuela, but Reuters has been unable to independently verify the extent of its presence or its operations.

Faller declined to discuss any specifics about the collection of U.S. intelligence or identify which insurgent leaders were in Venezuela.

But he acknowledged the trend and added that the flow of illegal narcotics “from Colombia into Venezuela, and then from Venezuela out in the region, has risen as the misery of the Venezuelan people has risen.”

“It’s essentially a lawless region now inside Venezuela along the border and the FARC dissidents and the ELN have taken advantage of that,” Faller said, adding: “They operate with impunity inside Venezuela.”

Santos said the big concern for Colombia was that the strengthening rebel forces would upend efforts to crack down on narcotics trafficking.

“That’s a big worry because in this situation of chaos, obviously they are going to grow. They are growing,” he said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and Helen Murphy in Bogota; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

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A Huawei company logo is seen outside a shopping mall in Shanghai
A Huawei company logo is seen outside a shopping mall in Shanghai, China March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

March 18, 2019

GENEVA (Reuters) – Chinese telecoms giant Huawei led the pack with Asia accounting for more than half of the international patent applications at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) last year, WIPO said on Tuesday.

Huawei, which has been under pressure since the United States demanded its allies bar Chinese vendors from participating in building 5G networks due to national security concerns, made 5,405 patent applications to the U.N. body, up from 4,024 in 2017.

“It’s an all-time record by anyone,” WIPO director general Francis Gurry told a news conference.

WIPO oversees international treaties governing patents, trademarks and industrial designs. Its annual report on the applications it receives – a subset of all intellectual property filings globally – gives an early snapshot of the trends.

Asia-based filings accounted for 50.5 percent of the total applications received, Gurry said.

“Historically, this is really quite extraordinary,” he said. “Historically, this is a momentous occasion, this is something that is really a very, very significant result.”

The second-biggest user of the WIPO international patent system in 2018 was Mitsubishi Electric with 2,812 filings, followed by Intel with 2,499.

Although inventors in the United States filed more applications than in any other country, China looks set to take the top place this year or next, after a meteoric rise over the past quarter century.

Having filed only one patent application in the WIPO system in 1993, its applications overtook Japan’s in 2017 and grew by a further 9.1 percent to 53,345 in 2018, while the number of U.S.-based filings slipped 0.9 percent to 56,142.

Asia accounted for six of the top eight companies, with China’s ZTE Corp and BOE Technology Group and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics also among the leaders.

China also jumped up the academic rankings, with four of its universities making the top ten list for the first time.

While the University of California remained well ahead among educational institutions, with 501 patent applications in 2018, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology was second, Shenzhen University and South China University of Technology leapt into third and fourth spot, just ahead of Harvard.

Gurry said Chinese universities benefited from an extremely strong emphasis on innovation and the commercialization of basic research, as well as access to the world’s second largest national pool of research and development spending.

He said China had introduced an equivalent of the U.S. Bayh-Dole Act, ensuring that patents taken out on government-sponsored research were being used, which may have had an influence on Chinese universities’ attitude towards commercializing their research.

The WIPO report represents applications for patents, trademarks and designs that their owners feel are valuable enough to protect and promote in overseas markets. Another WIPO report, released in December includes millions of applications for IP protection that are never filed overseas.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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U.S. President Trump walks down Capitol steps with Speaker of the House Pelosi after they attended luncheon at U.S. Capitol in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump walks down the U.S Capitol steps with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) after they both attended the 37th annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

March 18, 2019

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that it expects to receive tens of thousands of documents as part of its wide-ranging corruption and obstruction of justice probe of Republican President Donald Trump.

Two weeks ago, the committee requested documents from 81 individuals, government agencies and other entities including Trump family members, current and former business employees, Republican campaign staffers and former White House aides, the FBI, White House and WikiLeaks.

The probe, which Republicans have denounced as an overreach of congressional authority, is aimed at determining whether Trump has used his office to enrich himself or has sought to obstruct investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion by his campaign.

Trump maintains that his campaign did not collude with Russia and has dismissed the probe as a “political hoax.”

In a statement issued as Monday’s deadline for document submissions expired, the House of Representatives committee said it has heard from “a large number” of those who received document requests on March 4 and that many have either sent or agreed to send documents to the committee.

“Those documents already number in the tens of thousands,” the statement said.

“The committee continues to be in discussions with others, including some who have requested a subpoena … before they are comfortable supplying the information requested,” it said. The statement did not say which recipients have submitted or agreed to submit material.

Among the recipients were the president’s sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former White House counsel Don McGahn.

The committee has also sought documents from among those already charged in U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, including former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump adviser Roger Stone and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

“I am encouraged by the responses we have received since sending these initial letters two weeks ago,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler said in the statement.

“It is my hope that we will receive cooperation from the remainder of the list, and will be working to find an appropriate accommodation with any individual who may be reluctant to cooperate with our investigation.” 

The Republican president faces several investigations including congressional committee inquiries and Mueller’s probe into Russian campaign interference and any Trump campaign role.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)

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FILE PHOTO: Ratcliffe, CEO of British petrochemicals company INEOS, poses for a portrait with the Canary Wharf financial district seen behind, ahead of a news conference announcing the launch of a British America's Cup sailing team in London, Britain
FILE PHOTO: Jim Ratcliffe, CEO of British petrochemicals company INEOS, poses for a portrait with the Canary Wharf financial district seen behind, ahead of a news conference announcing the launch of a British America’s Cup sailing team in London, Britain, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

March 18, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Chemicals giant Ineos, owned by Britain’s richest man Jim Ratcliffe, is set to become the new sponsor of cycling’s Tour de France-winning Team Sky, according to media reports on Monday.

Broadcaster Sky announced last December that it would end its involvement in the British-based team and professional cycling after the 2019 season.

The hugely successful team, founded in 2010 with the ambitious goal of securing a first Tour de France victory by a British cyclist within five years, have won eight Grand Tours since 2012.

Bradley Wiggins, four times winner Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas have all triumphed on the Tour de France with Sky. Froome also won the Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia.

The BBC said the team would be renamed Team Ineos.

Ratcliffe, chief executive of the country’s largest private company, topped last year’s Sunday Times rich list with a net worth of 21 billion pounds ($27.81 billion).

Wiggins said the deal, if confirmed, could be an ideal partnership and bring peace of mind to the cast of top riders.

“There are a lot of big names in that team who would potentially have had to look for new sponsors and there’s limited places now with the amount of teams that have folded,” Wiggins said on his Eurosport show.

“I’m sure if that’s true and it all comes off, it’s signed and the money’s in the bank then I think that’ll be a big weight off the like of Geraint, Froome’s shoulders before they go into the Grand Tours really.”

Wiggins said team principal Dave Brailsford would want to retain control.

“It’s an ideal situation for Dave because he can continue running out this team with all his plans and philosophies and he’s answerable, you’d imagine, to one man.”

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, is seen on top of the company's building in Taipei
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, is seen on top of the company’s building in Taipei, Taiwan, March 30, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

March 18, 2019

(Reuters) – Foxconn Technology Group Ltd said on Monday it will complete work on a new factory in Wisconsin to assemble liquid crystal display screens and start production before the end of next year.

Foxconn said the next phases of factory construction will begin by this summer “and the facility will begin production in the 4th quarter of 2020.”

Foxconn initially planned to manufacture advanced large-screen displays for TVs and other consumer and professional products at the Wisconsin plant. It later said it would build smaller Generation 6 LCD screens instead.

The initial Gen6 facility will manufacture screens for education, medical and healthcare, entertainment and sports, security, and smart cities products, Foxconn said Monday.

In February, Foxconn reiterated it would still build a factory in Wisconsin after the company’s chairman spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump, following a Reuters report the Taiwanese company was reconsidering its plans.

Reuters reported in January that Foxconn was reconsidering making LCD panels at a planned $10 billion Wisconsin campus and instead intended to hire mostly engineers and researchers there.

Foxconn has stopped using the $10 billion figure in recent releases and has not responded to questions about how much it now plans to invest in Wisconsin.

The planned 20-million-square-foot campus marked the largest investment for a brand new location by a foreign-based company in U.S. history when it was announced at a White House ceremony in 2017. It was praised by Trump as proof of his ability to revive American manufacturing.

Heavily criticized in some quarters, the Foxconn project was championed by Wisconsin’s then governor, Scott Walker, a Republican who helped secure around $4 billion in tax breaks and other incentives before leaving office. Critics called the deal a corporate giveaway that would never result in the promised manufacturing jobs and said it posed serious environmental risks.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday that much work on the Foxconn complex appeared to have halted over the last two months.

After the Reuters report in January, Foxconn, a major supplier to Apple Inc, issued a statement saying the global market environment had changed since the project was first announced and “necessitated the adjustment of plans for all projects, including Wisconsin.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)

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FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the Saudi Binladin Group is seen in Jeddah
FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the Saudi Binladin Group is seen in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Katie Paul/File Photo

March 18, 2019

By Stephen Kalin

RIYADH (Reuters) – The influence of Saudi Arabia’s Bin Laden family on its eponymous construction business has been curtailed in a restructuring that follows an anti-corruption crackdown by Riyadh, a document seen by Reuters shows.

Saudi businessman Khalid Nahas has been named chairman of the newly-established Binladin Group Global Holding Company, which is 36.22 percent owned by Istidama, a finance ministry subsidiary, and 63.78 percent by Binladin Company for Development and Commercial Investment.

Only two Bin Laden brothers, Saad and Abdullah, are represented on the new nine-person board, the document from the kingdom’s commerce ministry reveals, in a break from the family’s exclusive control over its earlier company, Saudi Binladin Group (SBG).

The stake owned by Istidama reflects the ownership relinquished by brothers Bakr, Saleh and Saad last year after they were arrested in the corruption purge led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

SBG, which for decades built Saudi Arabia’s roads, mosques and palaces, is crucial to ambitious new plans for major tourism and infrastructure projects. It is not connected to Osama, one of the younger brothers in the family.

Other board members of the new entity include senior Saudi businessmen with experience at some of the kingdom’s most successful companies such as state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco, petrochemical producer Saudi Basic Industries Corp, and property developer Jabal Omar Development Co.

Two sources familiar with the matter also told Reuters that SBG’s chief financial officer, Klaus Froelich, had resigned following the restructuring. The former Morgan Stanley banker was hired in 2016 to help the firm overcome a crisis sparked by the collapse of a construction crane in Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told Reuters in December that SBG would soon have a “normal board” with family members and representatives of government ownership after a five-member committee restructured its governance.

That committee was led by Abdulrehman al-Harkan, a former chief executive of Riyadh-based developer Dar Al Arkan, who is not on the new company’s board.

Jadaan left open the possibility that the Binladin company could eventually be listed on the stock market.

Reuters reported in September that SBG had ended up on a collision course with the government after chairman Bakr Binladin and his shareholder brothers resisted earlier pressure to list.

Saleh and Saad Bin Laden were released last year under the anti-corruption campaign, which netted princes and ministers, shattered investor confidence and was decried by critics as a shakedown and power play. Bakr was temporarily released in January but sources say he later returned to detention.

(Additional reporting by Hadeel Al Sayegh and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Alexander Smith and Mark Potter)

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FILE PHOTO: Intel's logo is pictured during preparations at the CeBit computer fair in Hanover
FILE PHOTO: Intel’s logo is pictured during preparations at the CeBit computer fair, which will open its doors to the public on March 20, at the fairground in Hanover, Germany, March 19, 2017. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

March 18, 2019

By Stephen Nellis

(Reuters) – A U.S. government-led group is working with chipmaker Intel Corp and Cray Inc to develop and build the nation’s fastest computer by 2021 for conducting nuclear weapons and other research, officials said on Monday.

The Department of Energy and the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago said they are working on a supercomputer dubbed Aurora with Intel, the world’s biggest supplier of data center chips, and Cray, which specializes in the ultra-fast machines.

The $500 million contract for the project calls on the companies to deliver a computer with so-called exaflop performance – that is, being able to perform 1 quintillion – or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 – calculations per second.

If the project succeeds, Aurora would represent nearly an order of magnitude leap over existing machines that feature so-called petaflop performance, capable of doing 1 quadrillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000 – calculations a second.

It also heightens the stakes in a race in which the United States, China, the European Union, and Japan have all announced plans to build exaflop-capable supercomputers.

One of Aurora’s primary functions would be simulating nuclear blasts, a pillar of weapons development since the ban of live detonation testings.

Aurora will be built with artificial intelligence capabilities for projects such as developing better battery materials and helping the Veterans Administration prevent suicides, Rick Stevens, an associate lab director with Argonne overseeing the exascale computing project, said during a news briefing.

The project is a win for Intel, which will supply its Xeon CPU chips and Optane memory chips for Aurora.

Intel has been fending off rival U.S. chipmaker Nvidia Corp’s rise in the chip content of supercomputers as the machines take on more artificial intelligence work. Nvidia’s chips are found in five of the world’s current top-10 supercomputers, though the Nvidia chips are found alongside chips from its rivals, according to TOP500, which ranks the machines.

The world’s current most powerful machine, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, contains chips from International Business Machines Corp and Nvidia.

The source of chips for supercomputers has become a factor in trade tensions between the United States and China. The world’s third-fastest supercomputer – the Sunway TaihuLight in China – has chips developed domestically in China.

Chirag Dekate, an analyst with Gartner who studies the supercomputing market, said that despite the small contract size relative to Intel’s overall revenue, the work done on Aurora will eventually filter down to the company’s commercial customers.

“It’s not just a jingoistic race between the U.S. and China,” Dekate said. “The innovations that Intel is developing here will percolate down to other parts of its business.”

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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The GM logo is seen at the General Motors plant in Sao Jose dos Campos
The GM logo is seen at the General Motors plant in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil, January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Roosevelt Cassio

March 18, 2019

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) – As Lyft Inc cruises toward an initial public offering this month, one of the big winners will be General Motors Co, whose stake in the ride-hailing firm could be worth as much as $1.27 billion.

GM is not talking about its plans for that investment, and investors polled by Reuters, owning a collective 35.7 million shares, do not have a consensus view.

Some believe the No. 1 U.S. automaker should hold on to it for strategic reasons, while others want the money returned to shareholders through buybacks or a special dividend.

“Unless GM can leverage its investment in Lyft to accelerate its own robo-taxi ambitions with Cruise, we believe it would be appropriate to cash out its stake to repurchase its own under-valued shares,” said Michael Razewski, a partner with Douglas C. Lane & Associates, which owned about 2.6 million GM shares at the end of 2018.

Cruise Automation is GM’s self-driving car unit.

Lyft on Monday launched the investor “roadshow” for the March 29 IPO, and it said it to sell Class A shares at $62 to $68 a share.

GM owns more than 18.6 million Class A shares, according to the Lyft filing, meaning its investment at the outset could be worth $1.16 billion to $1.27 billion. GM invested $500 million in Lyft in January 2016.

With a 180-day lock-up period during which GM cannot sell and the expected April IPO of larger rival Uber Technologies Inc further stoking interest in the ride-hailing sector, the value could subsequently rise.

GM spokesman Tom Henderson said the automaker is happy with its Lyft stake, but declined to discuss future plans for the shares. Lyft spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna had no comment.

Several shareholders would like to see GM sell the stake and use the proceeds to repurchase shares or pay a special dividend.

“If I want to buy Lyft, I’ll go do it myself,” said Scott Schermerhorn, managing principal with Granite Investment Advisors, which owns more than 210,000 GM shares. “Take the proceeds and invest it in something that’s core to their business or give it back to shareholders.”

However, Jacques Elmaleh, portfolio manager with Steinberg Global Asset Management, with almost 24,000 GM shares at the end of 2018, said it is too early to write off the relationship.

“I’d be inclined that they hold onto it and see how it plays out,” he said.

Some of GM’s larger investors – the United Auto Workers retiree healthcare benefits trust, hedge fund manager David Einhorn and T. Rowe Price Group Inc – declined to comment. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc did not respond to a request for comment.

GM’s former president, Dan Ammann, joined Lyft’s board as the companies eyed developing networks of self-driving cars together. However, there have been few signs of cooperation. Ammann – who now leads Cruise – left the Lyft board in June 2018.

Analysts have speculated GM will eventually sell shares in Cruise or spin it off, and the incentive plan disclosed last month for Ammann pointed toward a possible IPO.

Kyle Martin, analyst with Westwood Holdings, which owns more than 30,000 GM shares, would just as soon see GM sell the Lyft stake and use that money in Cruise.

“That’s a meaningful amount of money that could certainly help them close the gap with Waymo and put them even further ahead of Ford,” he said, referring to technology leader Alphabet’s Waymo and GM rival Ford Motor Co.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman, additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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