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Picture of a cup of coffee at a Luckin Coffee on January 14, 2019.

Fred Dufour | AFP | Getty Images

Picture of a cup of coffee at a Luckin Coffee on January 14, 2019.

China’s Luckin Coffee, a self-declared challenger to Starbucks, has raised $150 million in its latest round of funding from investors including BlackRock, which values the company at $2.9 billion.

The investment, $125 million of which came from a private equity fund managed by BlackRock, follows a $200 million funding round in November that had increased the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion, Luckin said in a statement on Thursday.

The up-and-coming coffee chain with ambitions to challenge Starbucks in China is backed by investors including Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and China International Capital Corp Ltd.

Reuters reported in February that Luckin had tapped three banks including Credit Suisse to work on a U.S. IPO in 2019. The company’s chairman also sought a loan of at least $200 million from banks including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, sources told Reuters last month.

The loss-making firm’s super-charged growth plan has been built on cheap delivery, online ordering and big discounts. It has said it wants to open 2,500 cafes this year to displace Starbucks as China’s largest coffee chain.

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Australia’s conservative government on course for ‘miracle’ election victory

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Australia’s Liberal-led conservative government was headed for a remarkable win at the national election early on Sunday after uncovering a narrow path to victory that twisted through urban fringes and rural townships.

The results upended pre-election polls which predicted a Labor victory, though it is unclear whether the Scott Morrison-led coalition can govern with an outright majority or will need to negotiate support from independents.

The final result may not be known for some time.

“I have always believed in miracles,” Morrison told cheering supporters at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel, where the government holds its official election night function.

“Tonight is not about me or it’s not about even the Liberal party. Tonight is about every single Australian who depends on their government to put them first.”

The conservative government has won or is leading in 72 seats in its quest for a 76-seat majority, according to the Australian Electoral Commission, with just over two-thirds of votes counted.

Several seats are still too close to call and the final result is complicated by a large number of early votes that have delayed counting.

Morrison’s coalition defied expectations by holding onto a string of outer suburban seats in areas where demographics closest resemble America’s Rust Belt, blocking Labor’s path to victory.

This included a devastating result in the coal-rich state of Queensland, which backed the Pentecostal church-going prime minister by defying expectations and delivering several marginal seats to his government.

Sombre defeat

Voters on Saturday cast their ballots for Morrison’s message of support to aspirational voters and turned their back on Labor leader Bill Shorten’s reforms.

“I know that you’re all hurting and I am too,” Shorten told supporters at the party’s Melbourne election night function.

“And without wanting to hold out any false hope, while there are still millions of votes to count and important seats yet to be finalised, it is obvious that Labor will not be able to form the next government.”

Shorten said he would step down as the party’s leader.

Labor, a party with deep ties to the union movement, had promised to abolish several property and share investment tax concessions primarily aimed at the wealthy.

Both major parties suffered a decline in their primary vote, according to AEC data, which was caused in part by a well-funded campaign by Clive Palmer’s populist United Australia Party.

The election sparked several high-profile local battles, including attempts to remove Peter Dutton, a senior lawmaker who has championed Australia’s controversial policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore centres.

Although Dutton has retained his Queensland seat, former conservative prime minister Tony Abbott lost his Sydney beaches seat of Warringah to high-profile independent Zali Steggall.

“So, of course, it’s disappointing for us here in Warringah, but what matters is what’s best for the country,” Abbott told supporters in a concession speech.

“And what’s best for the country is not so much who wins or loses Warringah, but who forms, or does not form, a government in Canberra.”

There were also 40 of 76 Senate spots contested in the election, the outcome of which will determine how difficult it will be for the next government to enact policy.

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Trump aims to cool Mideast tensions, but Iran likely not ready to talk

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US President Donald Trump (L) greets Switzerland’s President Ueli Maurer before a meeting at the White House on May 16, 2019, in Washington, DC.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump appears to be paving the way for negotiations with Iran as tensions in the Middle East steadily escalate and send oil prices higher this week.

However, energy industry watchers and experts in the region believe the Iranian leadership in Tehran is not ready for talks. They say the Islamic Republic will first seek to strengthen its hand after the Trump administration tightened sanctions on the nation’s lifeblood, oil exports, and designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group.

That leaves room for miscalculations that could keep the oil market on edge. Tehran and Washington have already misread one another’s actions, leading to a dangerous series of counter measures between the adversaries, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

If we’re going to persist down the policy course we’re on, which is essentially to eviscerate the Iranian economy, even if we say we want to talk, are they going to listen to us unless we sweeten the offer?

Helima Croft

RBC Capital Markets global head of commodity strategy

Trump on Thursday met with Swiss President Ueli Maurer, whose nation has facilitated communication between the U.S. and Iran since they broke diplomatic ties in 1979. A day earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, another long-time intermediary between the U.S. and Iran.

That outreach, along with Trump’s recent remarks that he wants Iran to call him, are fueling speculation that Washington is seeking a diplomatic path after a series of troubling escalations in the Middle East.

This week alone, four vessels were allegedly sabotaged in a strategic oil port off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen also claimed responsibility for drone attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, prompting retaliatory airstrikes by Saudi Arabia on Houthi positions in Yemen.

Meanwhile, Washington has expedited the deployment of warships and bombers to the Middle East and pulled diplomatic staff from Iraq in response to intelligence suggesting Iran is planning attacks on U.S. positions in the region. The posturing has raised concerns that hawks within the White House are setting the stage for military conflict.

But a day before his meeting with the Swiss president, Trump reportedly told acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that he does not want to go to war with Iran. On Friday, Trump took to Twitter to denounce the “Fake News Media” for “fraudulent and highly inaccurate coverage of Iran.”

“I think they’re trying to walk it back a bit,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital. “I don’t think Trump wants a war. I think he thinks it would hurt his reelection efforts.”

Oil prices have risen about 2% this week on Middle East tensions. If the rhetoric from Washington cools, oil prices could pull back at least $2 a barrel, Kilduff said.

Risk consultancy Eurasia Group believes Trump is serious when he says he wants Iran to call him to negotiate.

“Trump is supremely confident in his negotiating abilities and believes he can strike deals that no other president can. He wants to repeat with [Iranian President] Hassan Rouhani what he did with Kim Jong Un,” Eurasia Group analysts Henry Rome and Jeffrey Wright said in a research note.

Rome and Wright say the Iranian foreign minister’s offer last month to negotiate a prisoner swap may have opened the door for this week’s meeting with the Swiss. But following increased U.S. pressure, Tehran is now likely to focus on building leverage against Washington before agreeing to talks.

That includes by continuing to scale up its nuclear program. Iran is restarting some nuclear activity it previously agreed to suspend under a 2015 accord with world powers. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal last May and restored wide-ranging economic sanctions on Iran, setting in motion a year of steadily escalating tension with the Islamic Republic.

The U.S. sanctions are seen by Tehran as economic warfare aimed at regime change, and that presents an obstacle to coaxing Iran to the negotiating table, says Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets.

“If we’re going to persist down the policy course we’re on, which is essentially to eviscerate the Iranian economy, even if we say we want to talk, are they going to listen to us unless we sweeten the offer?” she said.

She added, “It doesn’t look at this point like we’re really incentivizing them to sit down with us.”

In order to reach a diplomatic breakthrough, Croft believes the Trump administration likely needs to revisit a list of 12 demands it placed on Iran last year. Those include stopping ballistic missile tests, accepting a tougher nuclear deal and ending support for U.S.-designated terror groups.

That could mean challenging hardliners, particularly National Security Advisor John Bolton, the official behind many of the recent U.S. escalations in recent weeks.

Trump has reportedly grown frustrated with Bolton over his role in increasing tension in the Middle East, but the president also tried to tamp down reports of conflict in the Oval Office. On Twitter, he called reports of “infighting with respect to my strong policy in the Middle East” fake news.

Eurasia Group’s Rome and Wright say there’s merit to those reports.

“Trump likely views Bolton as trying to box him in and limit options to avert violent confrontation,” they said. “While Bolton’s job is not likely in danger, the disagreements between the two men on this issue are significant and real.”

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Cybersecurity hackers are paid millions to use their powers for good

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One of the most overwhelming problems in cybersecurity is a severe labor shortage. There simply aren’t enough people who are qualified to do cybersecurity jobs to fill all the open roles.

A start-up called Synack is helping companies get around this shortage by providing “crowdsourced” security. Its software platform provides automated ways for companies to discover security flaws, then it turns those vulnerabilities over to penetration testers, known as pen-testers — basically, hackers who use their powers for good. The company makes a point of hiring top pen-testing talent, then sees how they can use the flaws to breach the client.

Synack competes with both companies that provide vulnerability monitoring with machine learning, and with bug bounty programs, which allow companies to hire hackers with hard-to-find skills en masse to test their networks.

Government agencies and companies will need creative solutions like this as they face a shortfall of cybersecurity workers for available jobs, leading to 3.5 million unfilled roles by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, which monitors cyber job trends. Synack, which ranked No. 42 on the 2019 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, has 150 global customers, including 15 federal agencies in the United States.

The freelance model makes sense, as hackers with the best skills are often in high demand or too dynamic to want to stay put at a corporate job, according to Synack CEO Jay Kaplan.

“The talent crisis in this industry is pretty massive, and these people don’t like to be pigeonholed,” Kaplan told CNBC. “So we incentivize based on their ability to find very critical, impactful vulnerabilities on our companies. I fundamentally believe that the future of this type of talent is in a freelance or gig-economy type of dynamic. These folks don’t want to work full time for these companies, but they can find the most critical vulnerabilities that can impact them.”

For many the payoff is huge. “We just had our first hacker pass the $1 million mark [this year],” Kaplan said, meaning the freelancer had earned $1 million total in bounties from companies and agencies during his career there. According to Kaplan, these pros are racking up a lot of money since their skills are in such high demand.

Crowdsourcing security

Earlier this decade, it was hard to convince government agencies and companies to let some of the world’s best hackers have a crack at their networks, Kaplan said. But that’s changed as companies face a seemingly endless array of novel techniques and old problems that can be combined to cause serious breaches.

“Particularly in the past couple of years, crowdsourcing and security really weren’t ending up in the same sentence. It required a lot of trust to be built into the model. We’re excited today that the industry has really swung in the complete opposite direction,” he said.

The company has stringent requirements for hackers — it only employs around 1,000 freelancers, which they vet for reliability and skills. This is one way Kaplan said the company has tried to build trust with nervous corporations.

“We weed out about 90% of the folks that come into it, and we’ve built a whole platform to facilitate trust and control and visibility,” he said.

Synack offers visualizations of a company’s cybersecurity stance.

Synack

Executives are sometimes worried that the process might expose weaknesses they don’t want to bring to the surface. But Synack tries to emphasize the positive, explaining how well a customer’s security is working, before disclosing the flaws.

“We’re giving them more of that positive validation story, by saying look at all the things that our researchers tried. But what’s just as important, here are 100 vulnerabilities,” Kaplan said.

That’s been especially helpful in federal contracting. Most recently, Synack won a portion of the Hack the Pentagon program alongside bug bounty companies HackerOne and Bugcrowd. The company also recently renewed a $34 million federal contract to work on classified systems.

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