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Taiwan’s Drought Pits Chip Makers Against Farmers

HSINCHU, Taiwan — Chuang Cheng-deng’s modest rice farm is a stone’s throw from the nerve center of Taiwan’s computer chip industry, whose products power a huge share of the world’s iPhones and other gadgets.

This year, Mr. Chuang is paying the price for his high-tech neighbors’ economic importance. Gripped by drought and scrambling to save water for homes and factories, Taiwan has shut off irrigation across tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

The authorities are compensating growers for the lost income. But Mr. Chuang, 55, worries that the thwarted harvest will drive customers to seek out other suppliers, which could mean years of depressed earnings.

“The government is using money to seal farmers’ mouths shut,” he said, surveying his parched brown fields.

already strained by surging demand for electronics, the added uncertainty about Taiwan’s water supply is not likely to ease concerns about the tech world’s reliance on the island and on one chip maker in particular: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Intel and other big names. The company said last week that it would invest $100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity, which will likely further strengthen its commanding presence in the market.

TSMC says the drought has not affected its production so far. But with Taiwan’s rainfall becoming no more predictable even as its tech industry grows, the island is having to go to greater and greater lengths to keep the water flowing.

In recent months, the government has flown planes and burned chemicals to seed the clouds above reservoirs. It has built a seawater desalination plant in Hsinchu, home to TSMC’s headquarters, and a pipeline connecting the city with the rainier north. It has ordered industries to cut use. In some places it has reduced water pressure and begun shutting off supplies for two days each week. Some companies, including TSMC, have hauled in truckloads of water from other areas.

But the most sweeping measure has been the halt on irrigation, which affects 183,000 acres of farmland, around a fifth of Taiwan’s irrigated land.

project to increase irrigation efficiency.

That Taiwan, one of the developed world’s rainiest places, should lack for water is a paradox verging on tragedy.

2015, and before that in 2004.

“If in another two or three years, the same conditions reappear, then we can say, ‘Ah, Taiwan has definitely entered an era of major water shortages,’” said You Jiing-yun, a civil engineering professor at National Taiwan University. “Right now, it’s wait and see.”

according to the company, or more than 10 percent of the supply from two local reservoirs, Baoshan and Baoshan Second Reservoir. TSMC recycled more than 86 percent of the water from its manufacturing processes that year, it said, and conserved 3.6 million tons more than it did the year before by increasing recycling and adopting other new measures. But that amount is still small next to the 63 million tons it consumed in 2019 across its Taiwan facilities.

government figures show. Most Western Europeans use less than that, though Americans use more, according to World Bank data.

Mr. Wang of the Water Resources Agency said: “Adjusting water prices has a big effect on society’s more vulnerable groups, so when making adjustments, we are extremely cautious.” Taiwan’s premier said last month that the government would look into imposing extra fees on 1,800 water-intensive factories.

Lee Hong-yuan, a hydraulic engineering professor who previously served as Taiwan’s interior minister, also blames a bureaucratic morass that makes it hard to build new wastewater recycling plants and to modernize the pipeline network.

“Other small countries are all extremely flexible,” Mr. Lee said, but “we have a big country’s operating logic.” He believes this is because Taiwan’s government was set up decades ago, after the Chinese civil war, with the goal of ruling the whole of China. It has since shed that ambition, but not the bureaucracy.

Taiwan’s southwest is both an agricultural heartland and a rising center of industry. TSMC’s most advanced chip facilities are in the southern city of Tainan.

The nearby Tsengwen Reservoir has shrunk to a marshy stream in some parts. Along a scenic strip known as Lovers’ Park, the floor of the reservoir has become a vast moonscape. The water volume is around 11.6 percent of capacity, according to government data.

In farming towns near Tainan, many growers said they were content to be living on the government’s dime, at least for now. They clear the weeds from their fallowed fields. They drink tea with friends and go on long bike rides.

But they are also reckoning with their futures. The Taiwanese public appears to have decided that rice farming is less important, both for the island and the world, than semiconductors. The heavens — or larger economic forces, at least — seem to be telling the farmers it is time to find other work.

“Fertilizer is getting more expensive. Pesticide is getting more expensive,” said Hsieh Tsai-shan, 74, a rice grower. “Being a farmer is truly the worst.”

Serene farmland surrounds the village of Jingliao, which became a popular tourist spot after appearing in a documentary about farmers’ changing lives.

There is only one cow left in town. It spends its days pulling visitors, not plowing fields.

“Around here, 70 counts as young,” said Yang Kuei-chuan, 69, a rice farmer.

Both of Mr. Yang’s sons work for industrial companies.

“If Taiwan didn’t have any industry and relied on agriculture, we all might have starved to death by now,” Mr. Yang said.

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After Pandemic, Shrinking Need for Office Space Could Crush Landlords

Roughly 17.3 percent of all office space in Manhattan is available for lease, the highest proportion in at least three decades. Asking rents on the island have dropped to just over $74 a square foot, from nearly $82 at the beginning of 2020, according to a recent report by the real estate services company Newmark. Elsewhere, asking rents have largely stayed flat from a year ago, including in Boston and Houston, but have climbed slightly in Chicago.

The Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, whose United States headquarters are in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, recently relocated to another office building nearby, an open layout with tables designed for its work force of 130 people who will come into the office only a few days a week. Many of its office workers will keep working remotely after the pandemic, while some employees, like those in the marketing department, will hold meetings occasionally in SoHo.

“As a leader, it has been challenging because meeting people face-to-face is so important,” said Daisuke Tsukagoshi, the chief executive of Uniqlo USA. “However, since we are a Japanese company with global reach, the need for remote collaboration among many centers has always been part of our culture.”

The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs, even as the wider stock market and some companies in other industries like airlines and hotels that were hit hard by the pandemic have hit new highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.

Fitch Ratings estimated that office landlords’ profits would fall 15 percent if companies allowed workers to be at home just one and a half days a week on average. Three days at home could slash income by 30 percent.

Senior executives at property companies claim not to be worried. They argue that working from home will quickly fade once most of the country is vaccinated. Their reasons to think this? They say many corporate executives have told them that it is hard to effectively get workers to collaborate or train young professionals when they are not together.

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Restaurant Workers Are in a Race to Get Vaccines

Over the course of the pandemic, some of the most dangerous activities were those many Americans dearly missed: scarfing up nachos, canoodling with a date or yelling sports scores at a group of friends at a crowded, sticky bar inside a restaurant.

Now, as more states loosen restrictions on indoor dining and expand access to vaccines, restaurant employees — who have morphed from cheerful facilitators of everyone’s fun to embattled frontline workers — are scrambling to protect themselves against the new slosh of business.

“It’s been really stressful,” said Julia Piscioniere, a server at Butcher & Bee in Charleston. “People are OK with masks, but it is not like it was before. I think people take restaurants and their workers for granted. It’s taken a toll.”

The return to economic vitality in the United States is led by places to eat and drink, which also suffered among the highest losses in the last year. Balancing the financial benefits of a return to regular hours with worker safety, particularly in states where theoretical vaccine access outstrips actual supply, is the industry’s latest hurdle.

priority groups this spring. Immigrants, who make up a large segment of the restaurant work force, are often fearful of signing up, worrying that the process will legally entangle them.

Some states have dropped mask mandates and capacity limits inside establishments — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still deem a potentially risky setting — further endangering employees.

“It is critical for food and beverage workers to have access to the vaccine, especially as patrons who come have no guarantee that they will be vaccinated and obviously will not be masked when eating or drinking,” said Dr. Alex Jahangir, the chairman of a coronavirus task force in Nashville. “This has been a major concern for me as we balance the competing interests of vaccinating everyone as soon as possible before more and more restrictions are lifted.”

Servers in Texas are dealing with all of the above. The state strictly limited early eligibility for shots, but last week opened access to all residents 16 and over, creating an overwhelming demand for slots. The governor recently dropped the state’s loosely enforced mask mandate, and allowed restaurants to go forth and serve all comers, with zero limitations.

require their workers be vaccinated in the future.

Many business sectors were battered by the coronavirus pandemic, but there is broad agreement that hospitality was hardest hit and that low wage workers sustained some of the biggest blows. In February 2020, for instance, restaurant worker hours were up 2 percent over a previously strong period the year before; two months later those hours were cut by more than half.

While hours and wages have recovered somewhat, the industry remains hobbled by rules that most other businesses — including airlines and retail stores — have not had to face. The reasons point to a sadly unfortunate reality that never changed: indoor dining, by nature of its actual existence, helped spread the virus.

report by the C.D.C. found that after mask and other restrictions were lifted, on-premise restaurants led to daily increase in cases and death rates between 40 and 100 days later. Although other settings have turned into super-spreading events — funerals, wedding and large indoor events — many community outbreaks have found their roots in restaurants and bars.

“Masks would normally help to protect people in indoor settings but because people remove masks when dining,” said Christine K. Johnson, professor of epidemiology and ecosystem health at the University of California, Davis, “there are no barriers to prevent transmission.”

Not all governments have viewed restaurant workers as “essential,” even as restaurants have been a very active part of the American food chains — from half-open sites to takeout operations to cooking for those in need — during the entire pandemic. The National Restaurant Association helped push the C.D.C. to recommend that food service workers be included in priority groups of workers to get vaccines although not all states followed the guidelines.

Almost every state in the nation has accelerated its vaccination program, targeting nearly all adult populations.

“Most people in our government have considered restaurants nonessential luxuries,” said Rick Bayless, the well-known Chicago restaurateur, whose staff scoured all vaccines sites for weeks to get workers shots. “I think that’s shortsighted. The human race is at its core social and when we deny that aspect of our nature, we do harm to ourselves. Restaurants provide that very essential service. It can be done safely, but to minimize the risk for our staff, we should be prioritized for vaccination.”

Texas did not designate as early vaccine recipients any workers beyond those in the health care and education sectors, but is now open to all.

the Breadfruit and Rum Bar, declined unemployment insurance, and have shied from signing up for a shot. “Before you can even make an appointment you have to put in your name and date of birth and email,” Ms. Leoni said. “Those are questions that are deterrents for people trying to keep a low profile.”

In Charleston, Mr. Shemtov was inspired by accounts of the immunization program in Israel, which was considered successful in part because the government took vaccines to job sites. “If people can’t get appointments, let’s bring them to them.”

Other restaurants are devoting hours to making sure workers know how to sign up, locating leftover shots and networking with their peers. Some offer time off for a shot and the recovery period for side effects.

Katie Button, the owner of Curate and La Bodega in Asheville, N.C.

Still, some owners are not taking chances. “If we go out of business because we are one of the few restaurants in Arizona that won’t reopen, so be it,” Ms. Leoni said. “Nothing is more important than someone else’s health or safety.”

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Job Training That’s Free Until You’re Hired Is a Blueprint for Biden

Bill Barber saw an ad on Facebook last year for American Diesel Training Centers, a school in Ohio that prepares people for careers as diesel mechanics. It came with an unusual pitch: He would pay for the schooling only if it landed him a job, thanks to a nonprofit called Social Finance.

After making sure it wasn’t a scam, he signed up. After going through the immersive five-week program, he got a job with starting pay of $39,000 a year — about $10,000 more than he made before as a cable TV installer.

“I figured this was my best opportunity to succeed,” Mr. Barber, 23, said.

American Diesel Training is part of a new model of work force training — one that bases pay for training programs partly on whether students get hired. Early results are promising, and experts say the approach makes far more economic sense than the traditional method, in which programs are paid based on how many people enroll.

Right now, there are only a relative handful of these pay-for-success programs that train low-income Americans for better-paying careers. The challenge has been to align funding and incentives so that students, training programs and employers all benefit.

Social Finance, founded a decade ago to develop new ways to finance results-focused social programs, is showing how the idea could grow quickly just as the pandemic made job-training programs more important than ever. The coronavirus put millions of people out of work, upended industries and accelerated automation.

billions for work force development with an emphasis on “next-generation training programs” that embrace “evidence-based approaches.”

The Social Finance effort is powered by a fund of more than $40 million raised from philanthropic investors. The money goes toward paying for low-income students, as well as minority candidates and veterans, to enter the training programs. The group is not related to the online lender SoFi.

It has supported four job training programs, including American Diesel Training, in the past year. It has plans to have double that number a year from now.

Year Up, Per Scholas and Project Quest. Their training is tightly focused on specific skills and occupations, they work closely with employers, and they teach soft skills like communication and teamwork. But there are too few of them, and they struggle for sustainable financing.

Social Finance is seeking, designing and supporting new programs — for-profit or nonprofit — that follow that training formula but then apply a different funding model.

“There is emerging evidence that these kinds of programs are a very effective and exciting part of work force development,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. “Social Finance is targeting and nurturing new programs, and it brings a financing mechanism that allows them to expand.”

The social venture’s more than $40 million fund is seed money for demonstration projects that show its model could be widely used, whether backed by government or by investors in social programs, across a range of occupations including skilled trades.

Blue Meridian Partners, whose donor partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ballmer Group and the Sergey Brin Family Foundation.

Others contributing to the fund are the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Schmidt Futures, led by Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google.

For Social Finance and its backers, the career impact bonds are not traditional investments. For them, breaking even or a small return would be winning — proof the concept is working, which should attract more public and private money.

“We need to move toward evidence-based funding,” said Jim Shelton, chief investment and impact officer for Blue Meridian Partners and a deputy secretary of education in the Obama administration. “And Social Finance is supporting programs that show it can be done.”

The Social Finance income-share agreement with students ranges from about 5 percent to 9 percent depending on their earnings — less from $30,000 to $40,000, and generally more above $40,000. The monthly payments last four years. If you lose your job, the payment obligation stops.

“Our investors aren’t after high returns. They’re primarily after social impact,” Ms. Palandjian said.

When screening programs, Social Finance looks for those that offer training for specific skills linked to local demand, and have data to show that its students graduate and get good-paying jobs. In selecting a skilled-trade school, Social Finance, working with Burning Glass Technologies, which analyzes job-market data, sought a program for an occupation in demand with potential for the worker to move up the career ladder.

American Diesel Training, based in Columbus, Ohio, met the requirements. The for-profit company’s program is designed as a short, intensive course to train entry-level diesel technicians, mostly for trucking companies and dealerships.

Demand for diesel technicians is robust as more goods are shipped by truck, often delivering products ordered online, and baby-boom mechanics are retiring. There is an accessible career path to become a senior mechanic or into administration as a service, distribution or shop manager.

American Diesel Training, founded in 2017, succeeded in placing students in jobs in its first few years, but remained small.

Before Social Finance arrived, Tim Spurlock, co-founder and chief executive of American Diesel Training, looked into financing through income-share agreements offered by venture-backed start-ups. The terms, he said, were far less favorable for students.

“Social Finance comes at it from a completely different angle,” he said.

The first group of Social Finance-funded students started the five-week course last September. There are now about 70 students in each course. That is about four times as many as a year ago.

Social Finance pays American Diesel Training just over 60 percent of its fee initially. The rest comes later, after a student lands and keeps a job.

“I’m fine with that,” Mr. Spurlock said. “We’ve completely proven our educational model. The problem was the funding mechanism.”

A total of 229 students supported by Social Finance have been enrolled. The graduation rate is nearly 100 percent, and 89 percent have jobs. Their average annual income is $36,500, and the average gain from income before the program is $12,400.

Today, Mr. Barber, who saw an ad for the program on Facebook, works in Ohio for U.S. Xpress, a national freight-hauling trucker. As an entry-level diesel technician, he is mostly doing preventive maintenance on trucks. With diesel mechanics in demand, the company paid him a $2,000 signing bonus and a relocation fee.

Jordan Battle earns about $43,000 a year as a diesel mechanic for a large trucking company in Atlanta, far more than she did as a contractor for a civic education organization.

That job ended with the pandemic, so she decided to go for “something essential and to have a real skill others don’t.” She was accepted in the American Diesel Training program, and she was offered a job after three weeks, before she graduated. Practice interviews, résumé building and introductions to employers were part of the curriculum.

“That’s where the program really stands out,” she said. “They fight for you.”

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Electric Aircraft Start-Up Accuses Rival of Stealing Its Secrets

The age of electric planes may still be years away, but the fight for that market is already heating up.

Wisk Aero, a start-up developing an electric aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, on Tuesday sued another start-up, Archer Aviation, accusing it of stealing trade secrets and infringing on Wisk’s patents.

The lawsuit brings into public view a dispute between two little-known companies in a business that has become a playground for billionaires. It also entangles giants of aviation and technology. Wisk is a joint venture of Boeing and Kitty Hawk, which is financed by Larry Page, who co-founded Google. Archer’s investors include United Airlines, which is a major Boeing customer and plans to buy up to 200 aircraft from the start-up.

The niche market for electric vehicles and planes has become frenzied in recent months as so-called blank check companies, which have little more than a stock market listing and a pot of cash, have snapped up fledgling businesses with little or no revenue, let alone profits. Investors in the blank-check firms — formally known as special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs — are hoping to acquire businesses that they believe could follow Tesla’s recent trajectory on the stock market. To entice those investors, start-ups like Archer promise top-notch technology and optimistic business plans.

the lawsuit accuses two engineers of downloading thousands of files containing confidential designs and data before leaving Wisk to join Archer. Wisk accused a third engineer of wiping history of his activities from his computer before leaving for Archer.

“Wisk brings this lawsuit to stop a brazen theft of its intellectual property and confidential information and protect the substantial investment of resources and years of hard work and effort of its employees and their vision of the future in urban air transportation,” the lawsuit says.

Archer denied wrongdoing.

“It’s regrettable that Wisk would engage in litigation in an attempt to deflect from the business issues that have caused several of its employees to depart,” Archer said in a statement. “The plaintiff raised these matters over a year ago, and after looking into them thoroughly, we have no reason to believe any proprietary Wisk technology ever made its way to Archer. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously.”

Archer also said it had placed an employee accused in the suit on paid leave “in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant issued to the employee, which we believe are focused on conduct prior to the employee joining the company.” Archer said it and three employees who had worked with the individual had been subpoenaed in that investigation and were cooperating with the authorities.

accused one of its former employees and Uber of stealing trade secrets to gain an advantage in the race to develop autonomous cars. The companies settled the case in 2018, and the former Waymo employee, Anthony Levandowski, a onetime confidant of Mr. Page’s, was sentenced in 2020 to 18 months in prison. Former President Donald J. Trump pardoned Mr. Levandowski in January.

Archer announced its merger in February with a SPAC, Atlas Crest Investment, in a deal that valued the company at $3.8 billion. Wisk said its suspicions were confirmed at that time when Archer released a presentation that contained designs similar to those in a Wisk patent filing.

when announcing the transaction.

“We had 35, 40 people on this — and we attacked this like venture growth would or anybody else,” Mr. Moelis said. “And we did it fast, too.”

A spokeswoman for Moelis declined to comment.

Other companies trying to make electric aircraft include Joby Aviation, which announced a $6.6 billion deal with a SPAC led by the LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman in February, and the German start-up Lilium, which went public last month by merging with a SPAC led by a former General Motors executive, Barry Engle.

according to SPAC Research — more than in all of 2020.

But regulators and some investors say more scrutiny is needed. The Securities and Exchange Commission published two notices last month warning companies considering merging with SPACs to ensure that they are ready for all the legal and regulatory requirements being a public company entails. Many investors known as short sellers, who specialize in betting that share prices of companies are bound to fall, have targeted SPACs like Atlas Crest, which is among the 20 most-shorted SPACs.

The market for electric aircraft is in its infancy but holds huge promise. The prospect of “Jetsons”-like flying vehicles has inched closer to reality in recent years thanks to advances in battery and aircraft design. A high-stakes race to build the first viable electric plane is underway, and some airlines are betting that such vehicles can help them reach their goals of eliminating or offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions.

Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United, said the Archer aircraft were unlikely to be used for commercial flights but were ideal for short trips to and from an airport.

“They’re not only more environmentally friendly, they’re far quieter than a helicopter,” Mr. Kirby said Tuesday during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “And, because they have 12 rotors, they’re, I believe, going to ultimately be safer.”

Still, widespread use of electric air taxis is likely years away. Such aircraft may never become more than a luxury used by very rich people because businesses and governments may come up with far cheaper ways to transport people without emissions.

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Global Brands Find It Hard to Untangle Themselves From Xinjiang Cotton

Faced with accusations that it was profiting from the forced labor of Uyghur people in the Chinese territory of Xinjiang, the H&M Group — the world’s second-largest clothing retailer — promised last year to stop buying cotton from the region.

But last month, H&M confronted a new outcry, this time from Chinese consumers who seized on the company’s renouncement of the cotton as an attack on China. Social media filled with angry demands for a boycott, urged on by the government. Global brands like H&M risked alienating a country of 1.4 billion people.

The furor underscored how international clothing brands relying on Chinese materials and factories now face the mother of all conundrums — a conflict vastly more complex than their now-familiar reputational crises over exploitative working conditions in poor countries.

ban on imports. Labor activists will charge them with complicity in the grotesque repression of the Uyghurs.

Myanmar and Bangladesh, where cheap costs of production reflect alarming safety conditions.

genocide. As many as a million Uyghurs have been herded into detention camps, and deployed as forced labor.

Uzbekistan.

As China has transformed itself from an impoverished country into the world’s second-largest economy, it has leaned on the textile and apparel industries. China has courted foreign companies with the promise of low-wage workers operating free from the intrusions of unions.

regional government said last year.

statement reported by Reuters.

That assertion flew in the face of a growing body of literature, including a recent statement from the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing “serious concerns” about reports of forced labor.

The Better Cotton Initiative declined a request for an interview to discuss how it had come to its conclusion.

“We are a not-for-profit organization with a small team,” the initiative’s communications manager, Joe Woodruff, said in an email.

The body’s membership includes some of the world’s largest, most profitable clothing manufacturers and retailers — among them Inditex, the Spanish conglomerate that owns Zara, and Nike, whose sales last year exceeded $37 billion.

Trump administration furthered the trend by pressuring American multinational companies to abandon China.

“All of the economic forces that pushed this production to China are really no longer at work,” said Pietra Rivoli, a trade expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

Still, China retains attributes not easily replicated — the world’s largest ports, plus a cluster of related industries, from chemicals to plastics.

Cambodia in response to its government’s harsh crackdown on dissent.

Some global brands are seeking Beijing’s permission to import more cotton into China from the United States and Australia. They could employ that cotton to make products destined for Europe and North America, while using the Xinjiang crop for the Chinese market.

Yet that approach may leave the apparel companies exposed to the same risks they face now.

“If the brand is labeled as ‘They are still using forced labor, but they are just using it for the Chinese market,’ is this going to suffice?” said Ms. Collinson, the industry lobbyist.

Last week, H&M issued a new communication, beseeching Chinese consumers to return. “We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges,” said the statement, which did not mention Xinjiang. “China is a very important market to us.”

Those words appear to have satisfied no one — not the human rights organizations skeptical of claims that apparel companies have severed links to Xinjiang; not Chinese consumers angry over a perceived national indignity.

On Chinese social media, criticism of H&M remained fierce.

“For you, China is still an important market,” one post declared. “But for China, you are just an unnecessary brand.”

Joy Dong, Liu Yi and Chris Buckley contributed.

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Bob van Dijk of Prosus on the Future of Technology

The DealBook newsletter delves into a single topic or theme every weekend, providing reporting and analysis that offers a better understanding of an important issue in the news. If you don’t already receive the daily newsletter, sign up here.

Many companies made changes to survive the pandemic. For tech companies, the changes were also about seizing opportunities to thrive as life abruptly moved online. Few companies have juggled these risks and rewards in as many industries, across as many countries, as Prosus, an Amsterdam-based conglomerate that in 2019 was spun out of Naspers, the South African tech and media giant.

Prosus’ holdings run from e-commerce and classifieds to food delivery, fintech and more. The group is valued at around $180 billion, which makes it one of continental Europe’s 10 largest companies. It operates in more than 80 countries and owns sizable stakes in the internet giants Tencent of China and Mail.ru of Russia. The companies that Prosus controls employ around 20,000 people, and many more work as contractors or at companies in which Prosus holds smaller stakes.

Uber, DoorDash and others. But Prosus companies like Delivery Hero and iFood took steps to help preserve long-term good will with its partners at the expense of short-term profits. In Brazil, for example, “we paid restaurants much quicker than we usually did,” Mr. van Dijk said. “From a cash-flow point of view, that was actually pretty important” in keeping restaurants in their good graces, reducing potential tensions between restaurants struggling during the pandemic and online delivery apps seeing demand soar.

It was a similar story in India for classifieds. “We reduced fees substantially, or we waived fees,” he said. “That allowed people to preserve cash. When things started to come back again, there was a lot of appreciation around that.”

digital services taxes throughout Europe, meant to collect more revenue from multinational companies that do extensive business in countries without much of a physical presence within their borders. Those wouldn’t apply to Prosus, Mr. van Dijk said — “we invest locally and pay taxes” — but he added that the charges could erode the industry’s profit margins.

“I understand where it comes from,” he said, but “sometimes the regulation is a little blunt.”

What could hurt Prosus, Mr. van Dijk said, are changes to the gig economy, particularly efforts to entitle delivery drivers to worker benefits. Some drivers prefer the flexibility of being contractors, he said, and “we try to pay people properly regardless of what the legislation is.” As far as he could recall, Prosus has never lobbied against classifying workers as employees, as rivals like Uber have.

Another area to watch is China, which has moved to rein in some of its homegrown internet behemoths. Though officials have focused largely on Alibaba, Tencent hasn’t escaped their gaze: The company, which Prosus bought into back in 2001, was among those fined last month for violating antitrust rules. It is Prosus’ single biggest investment, and a tougher crackdown could batter the conglomerate’s market value.

Despite the stakes, Mr. van Dijk downplayed the threat. “Our impression is that China is still very supportive of its tech giants,” he said.

Adevinta of Norway for $9.2 billion. That defeat followed a losing effort to acquire the restaurant delivery company Just Eat, which Takeaway.com bought for $7.8 billion.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mr. van Dijk said Prosus hadn’t encountered much competition from special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, which have raised nearly $100 billion this year and are very active acquirers of tech companies. This may be in part because SPACs are largely a U.S. phenomenon, although other countries have been trying to court the blank-check firms.

Mr. van Dijk said Prosus might eventually find itself competing with SPACs, particularly for later-stage private companies. In the meantime, Prosus itself invested $500 million in a SPAC last year when the shell company merged with Skillsoft, an education technology firm.

Lately, Prosus has mostly been investing in its existing businesses. “Putting money into there is still a good idea,” Mr. van Dijk said. And a few months ago the company announced that it would buy back $5 billion of its shares.

Things are looking slightly more measured these days, Mr. van Dijk said, with valuations coming down “to much more sustainable levels.” For a serial dealmaker, that means opportunity: “It’s easier to do acquisitions in a market that is cooling off.”

dealbook@nytimes.com

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