Merama, the E-commerce startup, lands $160m in funding
Merama, a five-month old e-commerce startup focused on Latin America, announced today that it has raised $60 million in seed and Series A funding and $100 million in debt. The money was raised “at well over a $200 million valuation,” according to co-founder and CEO Sujay Tyle. “We are receiving significant inbound for a Series B already,” he said. LatAm firms Valor Capital and Monashees Capital and U.K.-based Balderton Capital co-led the “massively oversubscribed” funding round, which also included participation from Silicon Valley-based TriplePoint Capital and the CEOs of four unicorns in Latin America, including Uala, Loggi, Rappi and Madeira Madeira.
Tyle, Felipe Delgado, Olivier Scialom, Renato Andrade and Guilherme Nosralla started Merama in December 2020 with a vision to be the “largest and best-selling set of brands in Latin America.” The company has dual headquarters in Mexico City and São Paulo.
Merama partners with e-commerce product sellers in Latin America by purchasing a stake in the businesses and working with their teams to help them “exponentially” grow and boost their technology while providing them with nondilutive working capital. CEO Tyle describes the company’s model as “wildly different” from that of Thras.io, Perch and other similar companies such as Valoreo because it does not aggregate dozens of brands.
“We will work with very few brands over time, and only the best, and work with our entire team to scale and expand these few businesses,” Tyle told TechCrunch. “We’re more similar to The Hut Group in the EU.”
Merama expects to sell $100 million across the region this year, more than two times the year before. It is currently focused on Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Already, the company operates “very profitably,” according to Tyle. The cash raised will go primarily toward partnering with more brands, investing in building its technology platform “to aid in the automation of several facets” of its partners’ brands and in working capital for product innovation and inventory purchases.
The 42-person team is made up of e-commerce leaders from companies such as Amazon, Mercado Libre and Facebook, among others. Tyle knows a thing or two about growing and building new startups, having co-founded Frontier Car Group, which sold to OLX/Naspers for about $700 million in 2019. He is also currently a venture partner at Balderton.
It’s a fact that Latin American e-commerce has boomed, particularly during the pandemic. Mexico was the fastest-growing e-commerce market in 2020 worldwide, yet is still in its infancy, Tyle said. Overall, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly, with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.
“Merchants are seeing hypergrowth but still struggle with fundamental problems, which creates a ceiling on their potential,” Tyle told TechCrunch. “For example, they are unable to expand internationally, get reliable and cost-effective working capital and build technology tools to support their own online presence. This is where Merama comes in. We seek to give our partners an unfair advantage. When we decide to work with a team, it is because we believe they will be the de facto category leader and can become a $1 billion business on their own.” Merama collaborates with e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Mercado Libre, and several executives from both companies have invested in the startup, as well. (Techcrunch)
Copper eyes a new all-time high
Copper topped $10,000 a metric ton for the first time since February 2011, nearing the all-time high set that year as rebounding economies stoke demand and mines struggle to keep up. Copper has been among the best performers in a month where metals ranging from aluminum to iron ore have surged to the highest in years. The rally is being fueled by stimulus measures, near-zero interest rates and signs that economies are recovering from the virus pandemic. A push toward cleaner energy sources is also seen boosting consumption of copper, used in everything from electric vehicles to solar power systems, and further straining supplies.
“This is a remarkable run for copper in terms of magnitude and consistency,” Tai Wong, head of metals derivatives trading at BMO Capital Markets told Bloomberg. “The all-time high at $10,190 is just around corner and now practically a foregone conclusion.” Investors have piled into copper, with aggregate open interest in Shanghai Futures Exchange copper contracts at the highest in more than a year and hedge fund managers boosting bullish Comex copper bets in the week ended April 20.
Source: London Metal Exchange, Bloomberg
With copper demand set to soar once more, there are mounting concerns that producers will struggle to plug the gap as they battle a host of technical and regulatory pressures. In the longer term, producers worry that plans to boost mining royalties could stifle investment. Prices have doubled from lows in March, along with a surge across raw materials from oil to agriculture. That’s spurring debate about whether the current boom may herald a so-called commodities supercycle.
It has also helped push mining shares to multiyear highs. “The copper price has gone stratospheric and probably has further to go, which is a boon for miners who are currently making at least two dollars for every one they spend getting metal out of the ground,” said Robert Edwards, Principal Analyst, base metals at CRU Group.
Copper pared earlier gains as the dollar advanced, reducing the appeal of the metal for investors holding other currencies. For the day, the metal rose 0.1% to settle at $9,885 a ton on the LME. Other metals were mixed in London, with aluminum climbing to a three-year high and nickel falling.
“The copper rally still has legs to go,” said Wenyu Yao, senior commodities strategist at ING Bank. “The outlook for the U.S. economy keeps getting better. Economic reopening coupled with massive stimulus, faster-than-expected vaccine rollouts and supportive fundamentals all point to even higher prices.” With copper prices nearing record highs, Newmont Corp., the world’s largest gold producer, is looking to increase output of the metal through several “mega projects,” Chief Executive Officer Tom Palmer said on an earnings call Thursday. Even if just one materializes, copper will account for 15-20% of the company’s total output by the end of the decade, he said.
“I’m pretty excited about having good exposure to copper at that time when the world is going through the energy transition,” Palmer said during an interview with Bloomberg TV after the earnings call. “I think copper has got a pretty good story in front of it. I think its day in the sun is more toward the end of this decade.” (Bloomberg)
In Venezuela diesel shortages continue
Venezuelan farmers, manufacturers and retailers on Wednesday pressed President Nicolas Maduro to speed up a plan to resolve shortages of diesel, warning that lack of fuel was threatening harvests and food transport in the crisis-stricken country. Maduro last week called on his oil minister to present a plan to boost diesel production within 72 hours. Aquiles Hopkins, president of Venezuela’s Fedeagro farmers’ association, said authorities had not contacted farmers and he was not aware of any plan.
Those 72 hours were up on Saturday night,” Hopkins told reporters, noting that diesel shortages had led to losses in bean and sugar crops due to an inability to harvest. He added that farmers may lack fuel to plant staple crops such as rice and corn, a cycle that should begin in two weeks. Neither Venezuela’s information ministry nor its oil ministry immediately responded to requests for comment.
Hindrances to producing or distributing crops could aggravate hunger in Venezuela, a once-prosperous South American country now suffering years of hyperinflation and recession. Maduro last week reached a deal with the U.N.’s World Food Programme to deliver lunches to 185,000 schoolchildren. Maduro blamed the shortages on U.S. sanctions, which are aimed at ousting him. Last year, Washington eliminated an exemption to sanctions that allowed Venezuela to export crude oil and receive diesel in return. Critics argue that problems at Venezuela’s refineries are the main cause of fuel shortages.
Some individual businesses have sought to resolve their shortages by importing diesel from neighboring countries, but have not yet received approval from authorities to do so, said Luigi Pisella, president of the Conindustria manufacturers’ association. Felipe Capozzolo, president of the Consecomercio retailers’ group, said the fuel crisis could result in higher prices and product shortages. “That is exactly what we should avoid at all costs,” he said. (Reuters Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
Panama will reforest 1 million hectares by 2050
Deforestation rates in Panama are set to show a decline as the Central American nation ramps up its efforts to stop the illegal logging of forests largely driven by the expansion of agriculture, environment minister Milciades Concepcion said. Panama boasts one of the highest levels of forest cover in Central America, with rainforests on about 65% of its land, as well as mangrove and cloud forest ecosystems.
But expansion of farming and cattle ranching, along with “abuse” of logging permits, threaten Panama’s forest and have led to rising deforestation rates in recent years, Concepcion said in a video interview with the World Economic Forum. Panama lost nearly 2% of its forest cover from 2012 to 2019 – the equivalent of about 8,000 hectares (19,768 acres) a year – according to government figures.
“There’s a cultural aspect to this,” Concepcion told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Many people in rural areas live off this (logging) and it’s not easy from one day to the next to get deforestation down to zero.” To that end, logging permits granted by the environment ministry have been suspended for the past year and a half, and monitoring by police and border patrols and the use of drones and satellite imagery have increased, said the agronomist.
“Citizens are also increasingly reporting environmental crimes,” he said. Next year’s deforestation rates will “no doubt” show a decline, he added, without giving more detail. As part of a 2014 pact between the government and business leaders, as well as its national climate action plan, Panama aims to reforest 1 million hectares by 2050, including planting trees on degraded land.
Measures have also been stepped up to make it far harder for businesses to receive state bank loans if proven to have been involved in the “unlawful use” of land and forests, or if they lack proper permits for forest areas, Concepcion said.
Panama also plans to cut the use of petrol cars by at least 30% over the next decade by increasing the electric-vehicle offer on the market, phasing out fossil fuel-powered government cars by next year and shifting to electric buses, he said. The transport sector is a key driver of carbon emissions, accounting for about 40% of the total in a nation of about 4 million people, Concepcion said. About 70% of Panama’s electricity is generated from hydropower and less than 10% of energy used by the private sector comes from wind and solar, he said.
Solar and wind power were virtually non-existent in Panama 15 years ago, he noted, adding that the country aims to generate up to 95% of its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2050 with hydro accounting for a large share. Businesses can now get tax breaks for installation and equipment costs for solar and wind power – and it is hoped more financial incentives will be offered to boost their share of the energy mix, Concepcion said.
In recent years, Panama has experienced the impacts of climate change, from flooding and landslides caused by torrential rains to hurricanes that killed 20 people last year. Erratic rainfall is also affecting its major economic driver and source of revenue – the Panama Canal – one of the world’s busiest shipping routes that handles about 5% of world trade. Prolonged and more severe droughts have impacted the canal’s watershed and negatively affected the supply of water from Gatun Lake, a major part of the waterway.
The canal authority has been forced to impose temporary maximum depth limits on ships seeking to cross the waterway. “The effects of climate change are also seen in the fact that sometimes it’s necessary to restrict the draft on ships due to little rainfall at certain times of the year,” Concepcion said. Last year, the canal had to cut its daily slot reservations due to drought, and impose a “freshwater” charge on ships. “Climate change 10, 15 years ago was seen as a distant threat. Now it’s a close one,” Concepcion said.
Google Argentina domain name bought by man for £2
Google Argentina’s domain name was bought by a web designer while the site was out of action for two hours in the country last Wednesday. Nicolas Kurona, aged 30, said he managed to buy Google.com.ar through a normal, legal process. “I never imagined that it was going to allow me to buy it,” he told the BBC. Google Argentina told the BBC: “For a short term, the domain was acquired by someone else.” It added it had regained control of the domain very quickly. The story started when Nicolas was at his desk on the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Wednesday night, designing a website for a client.
He started getting messages on WhatsApp that Google was down. “I entered http://www.google.com.ar into my browser and it didn’t work,” he said. “I thought something strange was happening.” He decided to go on to the Network Information Center Argentina (NIC) – the organization responsible for operating the .ar country code domains. He searched for Google – and up popped Argentina’s Google domain available for purchase. Despite thinking it would not work, he “followed the steps and then I received an email with the purchase invoice”, he said.
Nicolas shared the NIC invoice with the BBC. Google Argentina’s domain name was acquired for 270 pesos (£2.08/$2.90). ‘I was frozen’. Dumbfounded, he tapped http://www.google.com.ar into his search bar and pressed enter. “My personal data appeared,” he said. “I was frozen looking at the screen. I could not believe what had just happened.” At 21.52 local time on Wednesday, Nicolas bought Google Argentina’s domain name. All of those millions of Google searches, and people coming to http://www.google.com.ar, were now in theory, coming to him.
“I want to make it clear that I never had any bad intentions, I just tried to buy it and the NIC allowed me to,” he said. Nicolas’s night had, in just a few minutes, turned into a major news story. “When the purchase process was completed and my data appeared, I knew that something was going to happen… I was really anxious,” he said. Nicolas tweeted what had happened – to try to clarify how events had gone down, he said.
One theory is that Google had simply forgotten to renew its domain name. However, Google says its license for the domain hadn’t expired – and was not due to expire until July 2021. Open Data Córdoba group (which is dedicated to tracking expired Argentine domains, and tracking registered ones) backs this up. It’s still unclear why Google’s domain name was released. Nicolas says he has no idea what happened, but it feels “slightly strange” to have so much media attention. He has been hailed as a hero in some corners of Twitter, and his tweet clarifying what happened has racked up 80,000 likes.
Nicolas says he’s just relieved that he didn’t get into trouble. He says the NIC took the domain name away from him shortly after he purchased it, but his 270 pesos have not been returned. He says Google didn’t get in touch, and that he wasn’t paid. Google has yet to clear up how they got the domain name back. The company is investigating what went down on Wednesday. But for some reason, for a few minutes at least, Google lost control of Google Argentina this week – to a 30-year-old web designer, it seems. (James Clayton, BBC)