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Xero Ipad

Xero has moved one step closer to becoming New Zealand’s first global technology giant.

Last week TCV, a Silicon Valley investment firm, bought 1.4 million Xero shares from Matrix Capital Management. The deal was worth NZ$28.5 million. That’s a little over one percent of the company.

Few people in New Zealand will have heard of TCV. Most New Zealanders will have heard of the company’s other investments. TCV owns equity in, among others, Airbnb, Facebook and Netflix.

Xero a name in Silicon Valley

Technology Crossover Ventures is based in Palo Alto, California, the epicentre of Silicon Valley.

Matrix reduced its holding in Xero from almost 10 percent of the company to around 8.5 percent.

The share transfer may not be a big deal in Silicon Vally terms or even in TCV terms. The business has close to US$10 billion invested in technology companies. The investment is from a TCV fund that focuses on mature firms that already have an impressive track record.

Yet it is significant for Xero, although not in financial terms. It’s an important vote of confidence marking Xero’s arrival in the technology premier league. That’s something no New Zealand company has managed before now.

Disruptor

The cloud accounting software company has disrupted global markets. Xero made the world sit up and look at New Zealand technology.

While Xero’s share price has fallen back from the mid-2014 high point, it has performed well so far in 2017. The price is up almost 15 percent since Christmas. In mid-December it traded at NZ$17.50, today, at the time of writing, it is NZ20.50. That’s the highest point for the company’s shares since November 2015.

Like many fast growing technology companies the business has yet to turn a profit. Although that day is now getting closer. At a recent company update founder Rod Drury said the business will soon be cashflow positive.

It continues to show strong growth in revenue. What’s more subscriber numbers continue to climb. This is a vital metric for a software-as-a-service business. At the end of March it hit the milestone of one million subscribers.

Don Christie - Brandon Keepers

Don Christie writes in the New Zealand Herald Global IT companies are taking profit here and putting nothing back:

An organisation I co-chair, NZRise, has been looking at the problem. We represent New Zealand owned digital companies who generate jobs and good incomes for tens of thousands of Kiwis. Our research shows Facebook, Google, Amazon and many other global digital companies are engaged in similar tax avoidance schemes to Apple.

Most revenues that accrue to those companies from New Zealand simply don’t get reported. They are the result of an online transaction and the money flies out of the country in the blink of an eye. No tax. No multiplier effect. No 41 per cent investment into our society.

From a business owner’s perspective it also represents a huge disincentive to invest in R&D, which is already at shockingly low levels by international standards. We find ourselves at a disadvantage to our multinational competitors.

Why create software and technical services in New Zealand when we will always be facing uneven tax playing field?

New Zealand has had a problem with multinational companies and transfer pricing for decades.

Yet the problem Christie writes about is on a different scale.

While the old multinational would shuffle money to minimise liabilities in New Zealand, they still paid some tax. They employed people, trained people and contributed to the economy in other ways. They funded university chairs, sports clubs and other worthy causes. If the new breed does any of that, it’s invisible.

Little contribution

The new multinationals pay next to no tax. They employ next to no New Zealanders. They contribute little to the economy.

Sure, you can argue that Apple products make New Zealanders more productive and that’s a positive economic contribution. The net positive economic contribution may even be greater than Apple fails to contribute in more direct ways.

That is an argument against banning or boycotting Apple products. No-one is suggesting that.

It is not an argument against taxing Apple.

After all, our roads carry Apple products to market. Our schools give people the skills people need to use Apple products. Our health system keeps Apple’s customers alive and healthy. In some cases our tax dollars buy Apple products.

Google this!

You could argue something similar about Google. Some believe Google software makes workers more productive than they would be with other software. Maybe.

Some think that Google’s activities in the advertising sector has an economic benefit. Try saying that to a New Zealand journalist or someone who works in the media.

Again, these are not arguments against taxing Google.

Google is quite happy to sell its products and services to New Zealand government departments that it doesn’t help fund.

It’s harder to argue Facebook offers any economic benefits to New Zealand. If anything it undermines productivity. It is the digital equivalent of an all-sugar diet.

Christie has a good point

There’s little change Apple, Facebook and Google will stop selling in New Zealand if we force them to pull their economic weight.

Until recently the problem was limited. Most of the non-contributors were technology companies. That’s changing with services like Uber muscling in on our markets. If things continue our economy will be hollowed out. Let’s not allow that to happen.

It’s been said that what the companies do is legal. That’s true. It doesn’t make it right. We have the power to change that. We have left this problem in the too hard basket for too long.

Apple Pay

Apple insists banks don’t pass on Apple Pay charges to customers. Banks accept this in most countries. But not in Australia and, by extension, New Zealand.1

Wrangling over the issue slowed Apple Pay’s progress in both countries.

Three of Australia’s four big banks asked that country’s regulator for permission to negotiate with Apple as a group.2

The fourth bank, ANZ, has its own agreement with Apple.

On Monday Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and National Australia Bank took fees off the table. In return they want Apple to open up the NFC chip in iPhone. That will allow them to run their digital wallets in direct competition to Apple Pay.

The dispute is almost academic. Digital wallet take-up rates are miniscule. For now digital wallets are a rounding error in transaction statistics. Yet everyone involved thinks they will soon be huge.

The Australian reports ANZ completed 10 million Apple Pay transactions since launching nine months ago. This compares to seven billion credit and debit card transactions in a year.

Banks and phone makers expect digital wallets to take off when they add other features. Driver’s licences, loyalty cards and membership schemes are at the front of the list. So are public transport cards.

Replacing wallets with Apple Pay

Both Apple and the Australian banks hope people will one day no longer carry conventional wallets. Both want the game to play out their way.

The key to understanding the dispute is that both sides are big, powerful semi-monopolies. Both want control and both want to clip the ticket on every transaction. It can mean rivers of gold.

The Australian banks argue that opening up the iPhone NFC chip will allow innovation to flourish. Apple argues customers will get a better digital wallet experience if it retains control. Among other things it means customers can run cards issued by different banks from a single app.

Banks elsewhere might be as uneasy with Apple Pay, but few banking markets are as tight-held as Australia and New Zealand. This gives the local big banks a clout that, say, US banks don’t have.

Customers want them all to get on with it. A handful of geeks have swapped to ANZ to use Apple Pay. If that trickle was a flood, the other banks would soon change their tune.


  1. That’s because Australia’s dominant big four banks are also New Zealand’s largest banks. ↩︎
  2. Good question. I’m glad you asked. In normal times it is illegal for competitors to collude with each other. Regulators fear this can lead to bad things for customers. ↩︎

 

Abstract, Jackson Pollock

Gartner says NZ IT spending will reach NZ$11.4 billion in 2017. That’s up 2.3 percent on last year.

This is less than the expected 2.7 percent rise in global IT spending.

The reason for New Zealand’s underperformance is that nation’s biggest IT spending category is fixed and mobile communications services. It accounts for almost 40 percent of all NZ IT spending.

Gartner says growth in this sector is likely to be flat over the next two years.

In 2016 we spent NZ$4.36 billion on fixed and mobile communications services. Gartner’s projection puts 2017 spending at NZ$4.38 billion. That’s a rise of about 0.6 percent. The estimate for 2018 is NZ$4.43 billion.

Meanwhile spending on software will rise from NZ$1.4 billion last year to NZ$1.5 billion in 2017 and will reach almost NZ$1.7 billion in 2018.

Segment 2016 YR 2017 YR 2018 YR
Devices     1,541     1,572     1,556
Data Center Systems         400         402         398
Software     1,421     1,541     1,674
IT Services     3,442     3,518     3,599
Communications Services     4,355     4,383     4,432
Total   11,159   11,417   11,659
Gartner – all numbers in thousands of NZ dollars

Australia’s largest sector is IT services. Gartner says software will be the fastest growing sector in 2017 for both New Zealand and Australia.

Global spending is set to total US$3.5 trillion in 2017. Gartner says the year was set to see a rebound for the industry. It originally forecast 3 percent growth. However political uncertainty means the analyst company has dialled back its optimism.

Gartner research vice president John-David Lovelock says the uncertainty means there’s a wait-and-see mood with many enterprises forestalling IT investments.

Cloud, blockchain, AI all trending

He identifies the big trends as cloud, blockchain, digital business and artificial intelligence.

The analyst expects worldwide spending on devices, PCs, tablets and phones to stay flat at US$589 billion.

Gartner says a PC replacement cycle, strong pricing and functionality will help drive growth in 2018.

We’ve seen similar optimistic projections before now. Some from Gartner. It’s hard to know where that replacement cycle will come from. Technology sales have been falling for years now. Even if it does kick-in, the industry needs more than replacements to see a fresh wave of growth.

Things are strong in the IT services market. Gartner expects the global market to grow 4.2 percent in 2017. It says this will come from investments in digital business, intelligent automation and services optimisation. The report goes on to warn buyers remain cautious.

IBM says Macs cheaper than PCsThe jamf blog covers a presentation by Fletcher Previn, VP of Workplace as a Service at IBM:

In 2015, IBM let their employees decide – Windows or Mac. “The goal was to deliver a great employee choice program and strive to achieve the best Mac program,” Previn said. An emerging favorite meant the deployment of 30,000 Macs over the course of the year. But that number has grown. With more employees choosing Mac than ever before, the company now has 90,000 deployed (with only five admins supporting them), making it the largest Mac deployment on earth.

But isn’t it expensive, and doesn’t it overload IT? No. IBM found that not only do PCs drive twice the amount of support calls, they’re also three times more expensive. That’s right, depending on the model, IBM is saving anywhere from $273 – $543 per Mac compared to a PC, over a four-year lifespan.

IBM is now the biggest Mac user, so the business technology giant’s experience is important. By any standard 90,000 users is a significant sample size. The total cost of ownership matters when you measure users in tens of thousands.

And we’re talking here about the company that started the PC ball rolling 35 years ago. That must count for something too.