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The Stripe logo pictured on a smartphone with U.S. dollar banknotes in in the background.
Budrul Chukrut | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

LONDON — Stripe on Thursday debuted a new product that it says will make it easier for businesses to calculate and collect sales taxes, marking the digital payment giant’s latest push into other areas of finance.

The service, called Stripe Tax, will automate the calculation and collection of sales tax, value-added tax and goods and services tax for transactions made through Stripe’s platform. British newspaper publisher News UK and Dutch start-up Routetitan are among those already using the service.

Matt Henderson, Stripe’s EMEA lead, said working out how much sales tax needs to be paid on certain transactions can be a complex process, with rules varying across different countries. In the U.S., there are over 11,000 different sales tax jurisdictions, “often the size of a small town,” Henderson told CNBC.

“There’s a lot of different variables that go into determining what’s the right rate and when is it due for collection and payment,” he added. “In Germany, for example, a pet rabbit is 19% VAT and a pet guinea pig is 7% VAT, whereas in the U.K. or Ireland you wouldn’t make a distinction on such things.”

Businesses can enable Stripe Tax by adding a single line of code to their website, the company said. Stripe will use data like a customer’s location and the product or service being sold to work out how much tax is due. Stripe makes money by taking a small cut of the transaction from its merchants.

Stripe, which competes with the likes of Square, Adyen and Checkout.com, got a big boost from the coronavirus pandemic last year as many businesses moved online due to lockdown restrictions around the world.

Stripe attracted more than 500,000 new clients in Europe alone since the start of the pandemic, according to Henderson. The company has been increasingly expanding into areas beyond payments, such as lending and bank accounts from partners like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

However, Stripe ruled out any intention of becoming a fully-fledged bank, with President John Collison saying last year he doesn’t believe in the Silicon Valley mentality of “doing everything themselves.”

Stripe was last privately valued at $95 billion in a March funding round. The company said it would use the fresh funds to expand its European operations. Stripe’s sales tax software was developed out of Dublin, where it employs about 80 engineers.

“We really need to be in investment mode, partly because there is still unfinished business in payments but also because there’s just so many other things adjacent to payments that are obstacles for businesses to grow online,” Henderson said.

The launch of the company’s new product comes after it acquired U.S. start-up TaxJar, which specializes in sales tax software, in April.

According to Bank of America, the total addressable market for sales tax is estimated to be worth $24 billion. A number of companies compete in the space, including sales tax specialists Avalara and accounting software provider Intuit.

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Tech stocks just finished a five-week rally — the longest stretch since market peak in November 2021

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Tech stocks just finished a five-week rally — the longest stretch since market peak in November 2021

Tech stocks on display at the Nasdaq.

Peter Kramer | CNBC

The Nasdaq just wrapped up its fifth straight week of gains, jumping 3.3% over the last five days. It’s the longest weekly winning streak for the tech-laden index since a stretch that ended in November 2021. Coming off its worst year since 2008, the Nasdaq is up 15% to start 2023.

The last time tech stocks enjoyed a rally this long, investors were gearing up for electric carmaker Rivian’s blockbuster IPO, the U.S. economy was closing out its strongest year for growth since 1984, and the Nasdaq was trading at a record.

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This time around, there’s far less champagne popping. Cost cuts have replaced growth on Wall Street’s checklist, and tech executives are being celebrated for efficiency over innovation. The IPO market is dead. Layoffs are abundant.

Earnings reports were the story of the week, with results landing from many of the world’s most valuable tech companies. But the numbers, for the most part, weren’t good.

Apple missed estimates for the first time since 2016, Facebook parent Meta recorded a third straight quarter of declining revenue, Google‘s core advertising business shrank, and Amazon closed out its weakest year for growth in its 25-year history as a public company.

While investors had mixed reactions to the individual reports, all four stocks closed the week with solid gains, as did Microsoft, which reported earnings the prior week and issued lackluster guidance in projecting revenue growth this quarter of only about 3%.

Cost control is king

Meta was the top performer among the group this week, with the stock soaring 23%, its third-best week ever. In its earnings report Wednesday, revenue came in slightly above estimates, even with sales down year over year, and the first-quarter forecast was roughly in line with expectations.

The key to the rally was CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pronouncement in the earnings statement that 2023 would be the “Year of Efficiency” and his promise that “we’re focused on becoming a stronger and more nimble organization.”

“That was really the game-changer,” Stephanie Link, chief investment strategist at Hightower Advisors, said in an interview Friday with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“The quarter itself was OK, but it was the cost-cutting that they finally got religion on, and that’s why I think Meta really took off,” she said.

Big Tech earnings don't look compelling enough to buy, says Stephanie Link

Zuckerberg acknowledged that the times are changing. From the year of its IPO in 2012 through 2021, the company grew between 22% and 58% a year. But in 2022 revenue fell 1%, and analysts expect growth of only 5% in 2023, according to Refinitiv.

On the earnings call, Zuckerberg said he doesn’t expect declines to continue, “but I also don’t think it’s going to go back to the way it was before.” Meta announced in November the elimination of 11,000 jobs, or 13% of its workforce.

Link said the reason Meta’s stock got such a big bounce after earnings was because “expectations were so low and the valuation was so compelling.” The stock lost almost two-thirds of its value last year, far more than its mega-cap peers.

Navigating ‘a very difficult environment’

Apple, which slid 27% last year, gained 6.2% this week despite reporting its steepest drop in revenue in seven years. CEO Tim Cook said results were hurt by a strong dollar, production issues in China affecting the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, and the overall macroeconomic environment. 

“Apple is navigating what is, of course, a very difficult environment quite well overall,” Dan Flax, an analyst at Neuberger Berman, told “Squawk Box” on Friday. “As we move through the coming months and quarters, we’ll see a return to growth and the market will begin to discount that. We continue to like the name even in the face of these macro challenges.”

Watch CNBC's full interview with Neuberger Berman's Dan Flax

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, who succeeded Jeff Bezos in mid-2021, took the unusual step of joining the earnings call with analysts Thursday after his company issued a weaker-than-expected forecast for the first quarter. In January, Amazon began layoffs, which are expected to result in the loss of more than 18,000 jobs.

“Given this last quarter was the end of my first full year in this role and given some of the unusual parts in the economy and our business, I thought this might be a good one to join,” Jassy said on the call.

Managing expenses has become a big theme for Amazon, which expanded rapidly during the pandemic and subsequently admitted that it hired too many people during that period.

“We’re working really hard to streamline our costs,” Jassy said.

Alphabet is also in downsizing mode. The company announced last month that it’s slashing 12,000 jobs. Its revenue miss for the fourth quarter included disappointing sales at YouTube from a pullback in ad spending and weakness in the cloud division as businesses tighten their belts.

Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s finance chief, told CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa that the company is meaningfully slowing the pace of hiring in an effort to deliver long-term profitable growth.

Alphabet shares ended the week up 5.4% even after giving up some of their gains during Friday’s sell-off. The stock is now up 19% for the year.

Ruth Porat, Alphabet CFO, at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland on May 23rd, 2022. 

Adam Galica | CNBC

Should the Nasdaq continue its upward trend and notch a sixth week of gains, it would match the longest rally since a stretch that ended in January 2020, just before the Covid pandemic hit the U.S.

Investors will now turn to earnings reports from smaller companies. Some of the names they’ll hear from next week include Pinterest, Robinhood, Affirm and Cloudflare.

Another area in tech that flourished this week was the semiconductor space. Similar to the consumer tech companies, there wasn’t much by way of growth to excite Wall Street.

AMD on Tuesday beat on sales and profit but guided analysts to a 10% year-over-year decline in revenue for the current quarter. Intel, AMD’s primary competitor, reported a disastrous quarter last week and projected a 40% decline in sales in the March quarter.

Still, AMD jumped 14% for the week and Intel rose almost 8%. Texas Instruments and Nvidia also notched nice gains.

The semiconductor industry is dealing with a glut of extra parts at PC and server makers and falling prices for components such as memory and central processors. But after a miserable year in 2022, the stocks are rebounding on signs that an easing of Federal Reserve rate increases and lightening inflation numbers will give the companies a boost later this year.

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Watch CNBC's full interview with Truist Securities' Youssef Squali

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Jury finds Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following ‘funding secured’ tweets

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Jury finds Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following 'funding secured' tweets

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his security detail depart the company’s local office in Washington, January 27, 2023.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Elon Musk and Tesla were found not liable by a jury in a San Francisco federal court on Friday in a class-action securities fraud trial stemming from tweets Musk made in 2018.

The Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter CEO was sued by Tesla shareholders over a series of tweets he wrote in August 2018 saying he had “funding secured” to take the automaker private for $420 per share, and that “investor support” for such a deal was “confirmed.”

Trading in Tesla was halted after his tweets, and its share price remained volatile for weeks.

Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before reading their verdict. “We are disappointed with the verdict and considering next steps,” said Nicholas Porritt, partner at Levi & Korsinsky, the firm representing the shareholders in the class action, in an email to CNBC.

“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

Musk’s lead counsel, Alex Spiro of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, arguing before the jury earlier Friday, said the matter had to be assessed in context, noting the Tesla CEO was only considering taking the company private. He said fraud cannot be built on the back of a consideration.

Spiro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The shareholders in the certified class-action lawsuit included a mix of stock and options buyers who alleged that Musk’s tweets were reckless and false, and that relying on his statements to make decisions about when to buy or sell cost them significant amounts of money.

Musk later claimed that he had a verbal commitment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and that he thought funding would come through at his proposed price based on a handshake. However, the deal never materialized.

During the course of this trial, Musk also said he would have sold shares of SpaceX to finance a going-private deal for Tesla, as well as taking funds from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

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Apple’s long-term positives outweigh rare earnings miss, Morgan Stanley says

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Apple's long-term positives outweigh rare earnings miss, Morgan Stanley says

Apple CEO Tim Cook holds a new iPhone 14 Pro during an Apple special event on September 07, 2022 in Cupertino, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Shorter-term macro issues don’t detract from the long-term value at Apple, Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a note Friday that reiterated an overweight rating and a $175 price target.

“Taking a step back, it’s rare to see Apple miss and guide down in a quarter, but we believe the long-term positives from tonight’s report outweigh the short-term negatives,” Morgan Stanley’s Erik Woodring wrote. Apple’s Thursday night earnings report cited a strong dollar, continued production issues in China, and the broader macroeconomic environment as three reasons for Apple’s first year-over-year sales decline since 2019.

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“On the third factor, I would say was just the challenging macroeconomic environment, and you’re hearing that from, I would think, everybody,” CEO Tim Cook told CNBC’s Steve Kovach.

But Morgan Stanley assesses those headwinds as transitory, noting both accelerated growth in iPhone installed base and a continued upward margin trajectory as longer-term upside which will ensure “the Apple flywheel keeps spinning.”

Morgan Stanley reiterated its top pick rating for Apple. The company has managed to navigate a broader tech downturn with considerable success and is one of the few tech companies that has staved off layoffs and maintained a level of operational expense discipline.

It’s that same discipline that helps Morgan Stanley analysts maintain a bullish outlook on Apple, which guided to a March 2023 gross margin ranging from 43.5 to 44.5%, according to the note.

“We believe Apple’s ability to post the highest gross margin in a decade despite seeing revenue decline Y/Y is impressive, and moving forward, we expect gross margins to improve as mix, FX, commodities, and logistics all work in Apple’s favor through the rest of 2023 and into FY24,” Morgan Stanley’s note said.

Apple’s user spend levels are also keeping Morgan Stanley bullish, proof that “the underlying drivers of Apple’s model remain robust.”

Investors have apparently embraced Morgan Stanley’s appraisal of Apple’s durability as a long-term investment. Apple shares were up around 1% at the open Friday, despite the sales miss, recouping losses from a 4% drop Thursday night. The company also reported misses on the top and bottom lines, beating analyst expectations only in iPad and services revenue.

— CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

Apple misses on top and bottom lines

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