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Published on January 11, 2021 by Holly Porter

Many companies made the headlines throughout 2020, but some have had a particularly interesting year from a commercial awareness standpoint. Here are The Lawyer Portal’s top four companies of 2020:

Huawei

2020 was a traumatic year of highs and lows for the Chinese technology company. Highs included overtaking Samsung to become the world’s largest phone maker in July as well as the initial stages of a collaboration with Google on a smart speaker. However, in 2020, Huawei was also faced with worldwide national bans, including the US, the UK, India, and Sweden.

Early in the year, the US placed pressure on the global community to stop using Huawei products in their 5G networks. On the 9th of January, US Senator Tom Cotton unveiled a bill to stop the US from sharing intelligence with countries who used Huawei 5G. A week later, it was announced that US officials had been putting particular pressure on the UK Parliament. However, at the end of the month, both the UK and the EU ruled they would still allow Huawei to operate, but only in building the non-core elements of their 5G networks.

US sanctions continued throughout February and May, with US senators asking the UK to re-consider. The Attorney General even suggest that the US should take a ‘controlling stake’ in Huawei rivals Ericsson or Nokia. Such measures led to a major drop in Huawei’s Q1 sales.

In May, PM Boris Johnson announced a review of Huawei’s role in the country’s 5G rollout. The summer saw Huawei locked out of Canadian 5G development and the subject of much suspicion when NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg supported the UK’s review of Huawei. On 14th July, the UK ban was announced. Shortly after, India announced it would also remove Huawei from its 5G networks.

In September, BT picked Nokia to power its 5G networks in the phase-out of Huawei. October provided a month of bad PR for Huawei, with the UK citing it had ‘clear evidence’ Huawei had colluded with the Chinese state. In October, Sweden announced its Huawei ban.

Huawei’s closeness with the Chinese government and fears of corporate espionage for the Chinese state have long concerned the US with their initial ban taking place back in 2012. However, 2020 saw this spread globally. It must be questioned whether COVID-19 and suspicion of a Chinese cover-up also had a role to play. It is doubtful that Huawei will be able to recover its image in 2021 but it is certainly a company to be watched.

Uber

Uber’s 2020 fortunes have been rocky, but it finished the year strong, looking to new, exciting investment opportunities. Uber finishing 2019, having lost its license to practice in London after TfL expressed safety concerns for passengers. Given London provided Uber with 25% of its UK income, this news carried both financial and reputational weight worldwide.

Throughout national and global lockdowns in the first 6 months of the year, Uber struggled. Global gross bookings dropped 80% alone in March. This led Chief Executive Dara Khasrowshahi to waive his base salary and make a 14% cut to Uber’s 27,000-strong global workforce.

However, Uber’s saving grace came from its food delivery service, which saw a 54% rise in gross bookings from January-April. Uber then sought to streamline its operations by withdrawing from the Czech Republic, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay.

In September, Uber won its appeal against the TfL ban in London, meaning the ride-hailing giant is ‘fit and proper’ to operate its 45,000 Uber drivers in the capital for the foreseeable future. The same month, Khasrowshahi announced he would invest £614m in the switch to electric vehicles and set a global target of a fully electric fleet by 2040. A separate announcement revealed the company ambitiously aims to implement the same target in the US, Canada, and some European cities 10 years earlier by 2030.

In October, Uber’s competitor ‘Ola’ was placed under a TfL ban for the very same threat Uber had been fighting off for years. Uber currently has a 50% market share in the UK, but this is expected to rise if Ola fails to overturn an appeal and Lyft is placed under a similar TfL ban.

Looking forward, Uber has ambitious plans. Firstly to invest heavily in EV and subsequently modify its fleet. Secondly, Khasrowshahi has unveiled a goal for Uber to become the ‘Amazon of transportation’ with Uber ferries plying the Thames and investment into a flying taxi project. For development, 2021 holds a lot of weight for the company – certainly an exciting watch!

Tesla

In 2020, Tesla had an outstanding year. The US car manufacturer emerged as the world’s largest electric vehicle company, overtook Toyota as the world’s most valuable car manufacturer in July, had huge battery breakthroughs, and, in December, was added to the prestigious Wall Street S&P500 index.

Tesla’s stock performance has been remarkable, with its share price rising ninefold in 2020. It began the year with a market capitalisation of just over $100bn. A late November surge saw this rocket past $500bn, ending the year around $670bn. When Tesla joined the S&P500, it was the fifth most valuable company in the index, only trailing behind Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook.

Throughout the year, sales increased quarter-on-quarter: 76,200 in Q1, 80,050 in Q2, 124,100 in Q3, and 161,650 in Q4. This serves to show how Tesla is strengthening and is on track for another strong year in 2021.

Why is Tesla successful?

Lack of competitors:

In 2020, no company came close to Tesla’s performance, particularly in the US. One example is battery life. Tesla’s S Model can drive up to 600km in a single battery charge; nearest competitor Opel Ampera has a range of 520km. However, looking to the future, Tesla may face competition from emerging Chinese-owned Nio, Xpeng, and Nikola. Although Tesla managed to circumvent Chinese tariffs in imports by establishing a Gigafactory in Shanghai, there are concerns Chinese-owned electric vehicle companies such as those listed above may be preferred in the region. There is also a growth in the number of potential domestic competitors such as GM and Workhorse.

Growth in the popularity of electric vehicles:

Worldwide, there has been a huge growth in popularity. In the UK, pure-electric models have accounted for 6.7% of total new car registrations. January-September 2020 saw registrations up 127% on the same period in 2019.

The election of Joe Biden as President

The US Democrats, generally speaking, are more environmentally conscious than Trump’s Republicans. As such, in 2021, we can expect great investment in electric vehicle companies. Watch this space.

Space X

Although Elon Musk’s other enterprise Space X is not included in Tesla’s stock price, there are a series of transactions between the two companies. For example, SpaceX uses batteries from Tesla packs in their Starship development efforts. SpaceX has also had a successful year with 26 launches, of which 23 were able to land safely back on earth to be re-used. Elon Musk has repeated the goal of establishing a human colony on Mars by 2026. This confidence appears to have been reflected in Tesla, with major stock increases after the televised high-profile launches in May and October.

The stock performance:

Has there been an element of FOMO in driving Tesla’s success? Some analysts believe continued investor interest in Tesla has led to huge one-day spurts in the company’s price. Tesla’s August stock split, for example, led to a huge number of new investors. This provides Tesla with more funds to use.

There are, of course, other reasons for Tesla’s success. However, commercially-speaking, these are the most salient. In any event, Tesla is set for an exciting 2021.

AstraZeneca

The British-Swedish pharmaceutical company has had an interesting 2020. Founded in 1999, AstraZeneca has grown to become one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. It is a constituent of the FTSE 100 and, in May, temporarily surpassed Royal Dutch Shell to become the UK’s biggest company by market capitalisation. It now sits behind Unilever and Royal Dutch Shell.

Analysts have commented that AstraZeneca’s growth could reflect the closing of the oil epoch, with investors flocking to pharmaceutical stocks, which have been relatively unaffected by, if not beneficiaries of the pandemic. Although AstraZeneca’s prominence has been long-established with cancer treatments such as Tagrisso and Imfinzi launched in 2015 and 2017 respectively, it is its COVID-19 vaccine that has thrust the company into the limelight.

In April, AstraZeneca began its first human trial and, in May, became the first non-Chinese COVID-19 vaccine to reach phase 3 of clinical trials. Despite complications involving a participant’s death in the Brazilian trial, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the US trial to resume.

Pfizer/BioNTech was the vaccine to be announced, achieving the first authorization on the 2nd of December. AstraZeneca followed suit on the 30th of December to become the UK’s second vaccine. More recently, Moderna became the third vaccine to be approved. Currently, AstraZeneca’s vaccine is the nearest to worldwide clearance.

As it stands, the UK has secured 100m, 40m, and 17m doses of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna vaccines, respectively. The AstraZeneca vaccine has huge advantages because it can be stored in a normal refrigerator, unlike the other two, which require sub-zero temperatures. This means it costs less per dose and is easier to distribute in nursing homes etc., which may not have freezers of -70°C. This will also help the global immunisation effort, where less developed countries have less specialised equipment such as freezers. It is estimated that AstraZeneca’s vaccine costs providers $4 per dose; Pfizer’s costs $20 per dose, and Moderna’s is the most expensive at $33 per dose.

AstraZeneca has also been in the headlines over its recent acquisition of US biotechnology group Alexion. The $39bn immunology deal will allow AstraZeneca to establish a strong market presence in specialty care drugs as well as the everyday medications it is currently recognised for.

Given the market move preference for big pharma, the likelihood AstraZeneca will be the main long-term COVID-19 vaccine provider in the UK and possibly worldwide, as well as the recent $39bn merger, this is certainly a company to watch.

 

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