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Investor enthusiasm for highly valued private tech companies waned substantially in the fourth quarter last year, with new data revealing that the growth of the so-called ‘unicorn’ herd slowed dramatically.

Just nine tech companies last quarter became unicorns, or venture-backed companies valued in the private market at $1 billion or more, according to data released on Thursday by CB Insights, which tracks venture capital and angel investments globally into private companies.

That compares to 23 companies that became unicorns in both the second and third quarters last year.

“Sentiment got very negative” toward the end of the third quarter, Anand Sanwal, CB Insights CEO and co-founder, said in an email. “And while we expected that would manifest in the funding stats, we were surprised to see the hit so quickly – in just the next quarter.”

With an abundance of cash available in the private market, startups have stayed private much longer than in previous tech booms, sustained by funding rounds of hundreds of millions, and even billions, of dollars. Along the way, their valuations swelled.

According to CB Insights, there are 144 unicorns globally with a cumulative valuation of $525 billion.

But market turbulence last summer brought anxieties about those valuations to the forefront, and investors began showing more discretion.

San Francisco mobile payments company Square Inc took a 42 percent discount in its initial public offering in November, stoking fears that the public market would not support highly priced tech companies.

The data from CB Insights offers new evidence that investors have responded by tightening their purse strings. In the fourth quarter of last year, there were 39 financing deals of $100 million or more. There were 72 such deals in the third quarter and 65 in the second quarter.

These so-called mega-deals first appeared in 2014, according to venture capital analysts.

“Some of these big deals are cannibalizing what would have been IPOs,” said Tom Ciccolella, U.S. venture capital leader at consulting firm PwC.

Overall venture capital funding fell 29 percent to $27.3 billion in the fourth quarter from $38.7 billion in the third quarter. The number of financing deals also dipped from 2,008 to 1,743.

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Apple suppliers Cirrus Logic Inc and Qorvo Inc estimated third-quarter revenue below analysts’ expectations, exacerbating fears about softening iPhone demand.

Cirrus shares slumped 9.5 percent to $24.25 in after-market trading on Thursday, while Qorvo’s fell 12.4 percent.

Cirrus said it expected third-quarter revenue of about $347 million, well below analysts’ average estimate of $385.9 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Chipmaker Qorvo said it expected third-quarter revenue of about $620 million, well below the average analyst estimate of $723.7 million.

Japanese daily Nikkei, citing parts suppliers, said output of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus models would be cut by about 30 percent in the January-March time frame so dealers could offload stock.

(This story corrects the first paragraph to say Cirrus and Qorvo estimated third-quarter, not current-quarter, revenue below analysts’ expectations. It also corrects the headline to conform.)

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Naspers, the largest listed company in Africa, said it was not worried about Netflix’s arrival in South Africa, adding it believed the market for video on demand was large enough to accommodate more players.

Africa’s most advanced economy, where a rapid expansion of fiber optic broadband in more affluent neighborhoods has allowed streaming of movies and TV series, was one of more than 130 new markets Netflix entered this week.

Naspers launched its own Showmax video-on-demand unit in August that has been airing a mix of international and local content to build a base of subscribers.

“It’s good news that we have another major player in the market who’ll generate additional interest in internet TV,” Naspers’ Showmax spokesman Richard Boorman said on Thursday.

Netflix enters a market where not only Naspers has a foothold, but four other players, including mobile phone operator MTN, has launched video-on-demand services in the past year and a half.

Naspers has not disclosed any detailed figures about the uptake of Showmax, saying only it has been positive.

As a new segment in South Africa a major challenge has been to get consumers to understand what subscription video on demand is and how it works, said Boorman.

Naspers sees the market for on-demand content growing as the cost of smartphones and tablets fall, faster mobile connections become available and South Africa gets more fiber to the home.

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The doorknob rattled. Two of the men occupying a federal biologist’s office in a stand-off over land rights hopped from their chairs and swung rifles toward the locked door.

There was no knock – the established procedure for gaining entry to the nerve center of the siege mounted by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy at this eastern Oregon nature center.

The Bundys’ bodyguard stood in silent alert but heard no voices from the snowy darkness outside.

“Should we approach the door or not?” Ryan asked, creeping toward a window.

Ammon, armed with only a cell phone, remained seated and shook off the tension, saying dryly, “Oh, it’s fun to live this way.”

Since Saturday, the brothers and a small band of supporters have occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which they seized to protest the U.S. government’s control of vast tracts of Western land.

On Tuesday, for the first time, they allowed two reporters to join them inside their refuge for a night marked by long discussions and moments of hair-trigger tension.

Earlier, the Bundys had heard from people they trusted that federal law enforcement agents were assembling in Burns, the nearest town, a half hour’s drive away. Federal officials have said they have no plans to approach the refuge.

As the two Reuters reporters arrived just after nightfall, the occupiers were moving into a state of high alert. The group’s head of security, a man known as Booda Bear, had been out of touch since driving off-site hours earlier. Amid efforts to locate him, the Bundys talked at length about what had brought them into this wilderness – and what it would take for them to leave.

They began the occupation after a demonstration in support of two ranchers convicted of setting fires on their land that spread to this reserve. Dwight Hammond and his son Steven were sent back to prison this week after a judge ruled that the sentences they previously served for arson were not long enough under federal law.

For the Bundy brothers, the occupation is personal. Their father, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was not at the reserve but was offering his sons advice by phone, became a symbol of the anti-government ethos after a stand-off over grazing rights with federal authorities in 2014.

When the brothers heard about the Hammonds’ legal troubles, they felt a need to show support and confront a federal government they believe tramples on local control. But how the occupation will end still isn’t clear.

“When we can say, ‘OK, now we can go home,’ would be when the people of Harney County are secure enough and confident enough that they can continue to manage their own land and their own rights and resources without our aid,” Ryan Bundy said. “And we intend to turn this facility into a facility that will aid that process.”

To underscore his point, he grabbed a piece of paper from the office printer. It featured a new name and logo the group had decided on for the Malheur refuge, which plays host annually to a wide range of migrating waterfowl. In the Bundy-designed logo, the words “Harney County Resource Center” float over an image of the reserve’s horizon in the glow of dusk.


The brothers have taken over the cozy and cluttered office of Linda Sue Beck, a biologist and civil servant they have come to view as a symbol the federal government. They said they would allow Beck to come to gather her personal belongings. But they don’t want her to return to work.

“She’s not here working for the people,” declared Ryan Bundy, the more outspoken of the brothers. “She’s not benefiting America. She’s part of what’s destroying America.”

He referred to her as the “Carp Lady,” a nod to the fish-themed block prints and “Carpe Carp” sign on her office walls