Solar plane lands in Spain after three-day Atlantic crossing

SEVILLE, Spain An airplane powered solely by the sun landed safely in Seville in Spain early on Thursday after an almost three-day flight across the Atlantic from New York in one of the longest legs of the first ever fuel-less flight around the world.The single-seat Solar Impulse 2 touched down shortly after 7.30 a.m. local time in Seville after leaving John F. Kennedy International Airport at about 2.30 a.m. EDT on June 20.The flight of just over 71 hours was the 15th leg of the round-the-world journey by the plane piloted in turns by Swiss aviators Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. "Oh-la-la, absolutely perfect," Piccard said after landing, thanking his engineering crew for their efforts. With a cruising speed of around 70 kilometers an hour (43 miles per hour), similar to an average car, the plane has more than 17,0000 solar cells built in to wings with a span bigger than that of a Boeing 747. (Reporting by Marcelo Pozo; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

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Behind Tesla carnage, signs of support for Musk's SolarCity deal

Some of Tesla Motor Inc's (TSLA.O) biggest investors have signaled support for CEO Elon Musk's plan to buy solar power company SolarCity Corp (SCTY.O), although the electric car maker's stock cratered on Wednesday, lopping more than the $2.8 billion value of the proposed deal off Tesla's market capitalization. “It’s a natural evolution of their mission to transform transportation into a sustainable business,” said Joe Dennison, a portfolio manager of Zevenbergen Capital Investments, which has about 600,000 Tesla shares, or about 0.4 percent of shares outstanding. It is still early in the process, he said, but "We expect it to go through and believe that most investors who actually own the stock understand management's long-term vision for the company."That was not the market's broad reaction, sending Tesla's shares down more than 10 percent, and taking more than $3 billion off its market value, which now stands around $28.7 billion. That was a blow to Musk, who is chief executive of Tesla, chair of SolarCity and the biggest shareholder in both companies. He is also the CEO of rocket-maker SpaceX.He and Tesla management risk being distracted from rolling out the new Model 3 sedan, a mass-market electric vehicle key to the success of the young firm, analysts said, questioning whether merging two companies which both need substantial cash was a good idea.The audacious entrepreneur envisions a one-stop shop for clean-energy fans, who could buy an electric car, home solar system and battery backup in a single visit. Some argued the two firms cater to different groups of customers, with little crossover.Shares of the much smaller SolarCity rose more than 3 percent, valuing the U.S. market leader in residential rooftop solar panels at $2.15 billion.PLANS IN THE PIPELINE In a hastily arranged call with investors and Wall Street analysts early on Wednesday, where Tesla executives defended the deal, Musk said institutional shareholders had some idea of the plan. He had not disclosed the deal, he said, but over the years, "this idea has been bandied about with some of our largest shareholders, institutional shareholders. Yeah, there have been discussions." The manager of the second largest mutual fund investor in Tesla, the $12 billion Fidelity OTC Portfolio, which is also the largest institutional holder of SolarCity, praised a tie-up in comments earlier this year."We remain fans not just of Tesla products, but of the concepts and potential future partnerships behind the company. We foresee fruitful synergies between say, Tesla and SolarCity – or any company that can benefit from superior battery technology," Gavin Baker, who runs the Fidelity OTC fund, said in his first-quarter commentary for investors. It owns 2.1 percent of shares.Overall, 45 percent of Tesla shareholders also hold SolarCity stock, a person familiar with the matter said. Baker and Will Danoff, who runs the $100 billion-plus Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX.O), the largest mutual fund investor in Tesla with 3.5 percent of stock, have both told Reuters in interviews that they tend to give more leeway to founder-run companies which they believe are still in the early stages of growth. Musk, a founder of Tesla and SolarCity who owns about a fifth of each, will recuse himself from board and shareholder votes, leaving the fate of the deal in the hands of outside investors, led by major fund companies such as Fidelity Investments.Musk himself said that Tesla could be a trillion-dollar company one day, despite its current market value being less than 3 percent of that figure."I have no doubt about this - zero," Musk said on the call with analysts and investors before markets opened on Wednesday. "We should have done it sooner."LOST GOLDEN TOUCH?The quiet support was drowned out by criticism as the stock fell. "This deal feels like (Musk) has lost his Midas touch. I also feel like Musk is trying to do too much," said well-known investor Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive at DoubleLine Capital, which does not hold Tesla shares.Investors who short Tesla, betting that shares will fall, pointed to the conflict of interest and raised financial concerns about uniting two money-losing companies which both regularly raise cash to support their expansion."When a company's executives misunderstand modern corporate finance and technology strategy, they can make profound miscalculations and errors of judgment," Salome Gvaramia, chief operating officer of Devonshire Capital, which has a short position in Tesla, said in a statement.SolarCity shares have fallen more than 50 percent this year in a highly competitive market, fanning criticism that a Tesla deal was meant to save SolarCity.Some analysts noted that SpaceX has bought SolarCity bonds, giving it and Musk incentive to support SolarCity.Short-seller Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates blasted Tesla's proposed acquisition of SolarCity, describing it in a statement as a "brazen" bailout" and "shameful example of corporate governance at its worst."Musk said SolarCity would post positive cash flow in the next three to six months and would not have a material impact on Tesla's future cash needs or expectation to be cash-flow positive by year-end. Costs for both companies would go down significantly after the merger, he said, without giving specifics.Share lending data suggested short sellers were increasing their bets against both companies. Interest rates to borrow Tesla shares rose to 5 percent on Wednesday from 1.5 percent early in the day, according to S3 Partners, a financial analytics firm. Hardly any SolarCity shares were available for borrowing. (Additional reporting by Jennifer Ablan, Supantha Mukherjee, Narottam Medhora,Liana Baker, Paul Lienert, Michael Flaherty, Alexandria Sage, Tim McLaughlin, Ross Kerber, Rishika Sadam, Nichola Groom and Noel Randewich; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Anil D'Silva, Lisa Von Ahn and Bill Rigby)

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Solar plane takes on Atlantic as part of round-the-world bid

NEW YORK An airplane powered solely by energy from the sun headed across the Atlantic early on Monday, on one of the longest legs of the first-ever flight around the globe without using a drop of fuel.The spindly, single-seat Solar Impulse 2 left John F. Kennedy International Airport at about 2:30 a.m. EDT on a trip expected to take up to 90 hours, the 15th leg of its round-the-world journey.Swiss aviators Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg have been taking turns piloting the plane, which has more than 17,000 solar cells built into wings whose span exceeds that of a Boeing 747, with Piccard at the controls for the transatlantic flight.The airplane's slow cruising speed, similar to that of a car, has required both men to take up meditation and hypnosis as part of training to stay alert for long periods. Solar Impulse 2 is due to land sometime on Thursday in Spain or France, with the precise location to be determined later depending on weather conditions, said Elizabeth Banta, a spokeswoman for the project team.The carbon-fiber, propeller-driven plane has four solar-powered engines and four batteries to store surplus energy. It weighs the same as a family car and can climb to 28,000 feet (8,500 m). The team behind Solar Impulse - part of a campaign to build support for clean energy technologies - hopes to complete the circumnavigation in Abu Dhabi, where the journey began in March 2015.Piccard and Borschberg completed a multi-flight crossing of the United States with an earlier version of the plane in 2013. Borschberg set an endurance record for the longest non-stop solo flight last July in a 118-hour trans-Pacific crossing from Japan to Hawaii. (Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Hail a ride hands-free: Apple opens Siri to outside developers

SAN FRANCISCO Apple Inc is opening its popular Siri digital assistant to outside developers, which means iPhone users could soon be able to hail rides with Uber, publish photos on Shutterfly or make a call on Skype with voice commands. The move, announced at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday, is Apple's latest attempt to spruce up the iPhone experience as sales of the best-selling product flag.The world's best-known technology company also gave a demonstration of Siri on the Mac computer, which for the first time will be able to search for photos, documents, music and other files via voice commands. Siri will also work similarly with Apple TV.Among other revamps, it said its Apple Pay mobile payment system would be able to work for some internet purchases on its Safari browser, including on Mac computers, representing a challenge to PayPal Holdings Inc. Apple is also adding Siri's artificial intelligence to its messaging app, which will get quick access to emojis and new ways to expand and change how texts are displayed. The presentation was kicked off by Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook asking for a moment of silence for the victims of Sunday's mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. That was followed up by a demonstration of a new operating system for the Apple Watch that opens apps much faster than the previous version, and lets users write messages with their finger on the watch face, including in Chinese. Apple's Siri move was largely foreseen by analysts, and the event itself did not grip investors as some of Apple's product announcements have in the past. Its shares were down 1.1 percent at $97.65 in afternoon trading, near where they were at the start of the presentation. “Whatever news comes out of it (the conference) might matter to some short-term traders but won’t affect our view on the stock," said Mark Mulholland, portfolio manager of the Matthew 25 fund, during the presentation. "We’re going to hold this stock for at least another three years, because it has such a dominant position in the phone market.” Siri is the most visible aspect of Apple's artificial intelligence program, commonly known as AI. Rivals such as Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc's Google are investing heavily in their own digital assistants, analysts say. "Apple just can't stand still in light of this competition," said analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies. Apple acknowledged a number of developers' grievances this month by allowing ads in App Store search results, which gives them a way to stand out in a sea of apps. And it will give developers a bigger cut of revenues on subscription apps. (Reporting by Julia Love and Noel Randewich in San Francisco, additional reporting by David Randall; editing by Peter Henderson and Bill Rigby)

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Sovereign wealth funds throw funding lifeline to tech ventures

FRANKFURT/SINGAPORE A succession of funding deals by deep-pocketed sovereign wealth funds have thrown a life preserver to some of the world’s biggest private tech firms whose high valuations have come under scrutiny in the past year.Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States along with state-backed investors in Singapore and China have ploughed money into hot tech investments such as ride-sharing company Uber [UBER.UL] and Chinese Internet giant Alibaba and its private affiliates. With overall funding for start-ups slowing down by a third to $25.5 billion in the last two quarters, according to data from CB Insights, high-profile ventures are turning to government funds or institutional money to create "private IPOs" rather than to venture capitalists or chancing public listings. These capital injections have helped to keep valuations high as other tech ventures such as those of cloud storage service Dropbox or Indian takeaway food ordering app Zomato have been marked down by some earlier backers. "Sovereign wealth funds are well placed to make large bets... given their deep access to capital and their risk appetite for growth investments," said Jacqueline Chan, a Singapore-based partner at law firm Milbank, who has advised sovereign wealth funds.Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund said last week it invested $3.5 billion in Uber, Silicon Valley's most highly valued private company. At $62.5 billion, the car-sharing firm is worth more than the stock market capitalizations of automakers BMW or GM and close to VW, Daimler and Ford.Also last week, Singapore's two big government investors bought $1 billion of Alibaba Group shares, while in April, China Investment Corp, took part in a $4.5 billion round in Alibaba's financial services affiliate ANT Financial with other investors, marking the largest ever funding round in a fintech firm.FUNDRAISING ARMS RACE Technology stakes still make up only a tiny fraction of investment portfolios for sovereigns, with most sticking with conventional fixed income and equity investments and long-term projects like hotels, shopping centers and ports. And only about 10 of the world's 80 or more sovereign funds have made sizeable investments in tech ventures so far according to market research firm Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute."It becomes a waste of time to write small cheques for funds of this scale," SWF Institute president Michael Maduell said. But the pace of sovereign investment in tech ventures is picking up with more than two dozen in the past year.Singapore state fund Temasek has invested in more tech ventures than all other sovereign funds combined - more than 70 dating back to the dot-com era.Temasek has backed Airbnb, Chinese Uber rival Didi Chuxing, and China Internet Plus Group, the country's largest online group buying site, as well as Alibaba.(reut.rs/1stwUvu) “New, disruptive, technologies and platforms are very much part of our investment focus," Temasek spokesman Stephen Forshaw said.The new sovereign investments have had an outsized impact on the private market for new companies, long dominated by venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and Israel and more recently, in China, India and Europe. Top venture capital firms such as Accel, Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, Andreesen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, Index Ventures have responded by raising big new funds to stay in the game by focusing on earlier, riskier stages of funding than sovereign funds are ever likely to do due to their size. INFLUENTIAL Singapore's other big sovereign investor GIC manages central bank reserves and has traditionally invested with private equity firms, but lately has been going alone on private equity-type tech investments such as U.S. payments provider Square (SQ.N), a year ahead of its late 2015 IPO. "Technology is a very important part of our investment universe, and will be increasingly so," said Lim Chow Kiat, GIC's deputy president and group chief investment officer. "It’s critical for GIC to stay involved as all these changes are producing big opportunities as well as risks.”Sovereign funds in oil-rich Gulf states have also begun to take positions in tech ventures, breaking with a prior focus on real estate deals.Saudi Arabia's $3.5 billion stake in Uber was the largest ever single private investment in a tech company while the Kuwait Investment Authority took the lead this year in a $165 million private equity funding for struggling U.S. wearable devices maker Jawbone, one of seven tech and healthcare ventures it has made in the last two years. Qatar Investment Authority invested in Uber and Indian ecommerce firm Flipkart in 2014."While sovereign wealth funds are not going to be in every tech deal, they are starting to exert their influence," Maduell said. "They have definitely begun to get their hands dirty."Nevertheless, tech ventures are still too risky for some sovereign funds, with mandates to preserve capital and ensure predictable returns.Norway’s $865-billion fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth investor, is a major backer of publicly traded tech stocks such as Apple Inc (AAPL.O), but it can only invest in an unlisted company in the final run up to a public offering.Restrictions on private investments mean it passed on an offer from Facebook (FB.O) to invest several years ago.”Facebook made contact and asked us whether we wanted to be a shareholder. We said no,” the fund's CEO, Yngve Slyngstad, told Norwegian daily VG a week ago. (Additional reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; editing by Anna Willard)

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