Will Europe muddy the future of Microsoft’s big deal?
European antitrust regulators are set to weigh in Monday on Microsoft’s $69 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard. In a twist, the European Commission is reportedly set to approve a video game megadeal that its American and British counterparts have already rejected.
If that happens, tech giants will be left with an even more confusing regulatory landscape to contend with, as three of the world’s most powerful antitrust regulators take different policy tacks.
The E.U. is expected to be satisfied with Microsoft’s concessions on the deal, namely pledges to make sure top titles like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft are available to rival video game platforms like Sony’s and Nintendo’s.
That would be a very different conclusion than that reached last month by Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority, which argued that Microsoft could end up dominating the nascent business of cloud gaming — and that no solution apart from selling off big chunks of Activision would be acceptable.
It would be a striking show of leniency by a notoriously tough regulator. The E.U. has been among the most aggressive in policing Big Tech, having fined companies like Google billions and forced changes in their business practices. But in recent years, American regulators like the F.T.C., under Lina Khan, have gone even further, pushing back against takeovers by tech giants, and openly questioning whether they should get even bigger.
Microsoft and others are left trying to navigate an increasingly complicated thicket of global rules, where regulators are coming to very different conclusions about the same issues. And given the size and importance of the British, European and U.S. markets, simply ignoring any one of them is impossible.
The deal’s future is clearer, and bleaker, if the E.U. rejects it. Microsoft and Activision are already appealing the decisions by the F.T.C. and the C.M.A.; overturning the British regulator’s decision is expected to be especially tough. (The body that will weigh the C.M.A. appeal could take months, and will review only whether the regulator’s decision followed proper procedures.)
Fighting a third battle — especially against a regulator that overwhelmingly tends to succeed in appeals — would only make an especially difficult fight that much harder.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Twitter gets heat for silencing Turkey-related tweets. Critics accused the social network of kowtowing to Turkey’s hard-line leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, by blocking some politically themed posts in the country ahead of its election; the company said it was responding to “legal process.” As for the results: A runoff is set for May 28 after Mr. Erdogan failed to win a majority of the vote.
Prepare for round two of debt-ceiling talks. President Biden said he planned to meet with congressional leaders on Tuesday as both parties remain deadlocked on how to avoid a default. Compounding the urgency: Tax revenues have plunged, pushing the U.S. government closer to the point where it won’t have the funds to pay its bills.
American technologies are still finding their way to Russia. Illicit trade networks are facilitating the flow of aircraft parts made by Boeing and Honeywell to sanctioned Russian airlines, bolstering the country’s economy, The Times reports. Meanwhile, the Group of 7 and the E.U. this week plan to announce new bans on Russian gas imports.
An activist investor is reportedly set to take on Shake Shack. Engaged Capital plans to seek three board seats at the struggling burger chain, The Wall Street Journal reports. Shares in Shake Shack have plunged by nearly half as consumers begin to pull back on spending.
Two big mergers aim to reshape the commodities market. The pipeline operator Oneok has agreed to buy Magellan Midstream Partners for $18.8 billion in cash and stock to create one of America’s biggest providers of natural gas storage and transportation. Meanwhile, the Australian gold miner Newcrest Mining plans to acquire a top rival, Newmont, for $17.8 billion.
The many losers of the Vice bankruptcy
Vice, the once-highflying digital media outlet, filed for bankruptcy overnight, as the punishing economics of online publishing took their toll.
The company has received at least one rescue bid to acquire it out of Chapter 11, potentially sparing it a drawn-out and disruptive trip through bankruptcy. But the $225 million offer price is a reminder of how far Vice has fallen, taking some of the top names in media and finance with it.
It was just six years ago that Vice was valued at $5.7 billion, as the upstart drew in investors like TPG, Disney, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and the advertising giant WPP.
All those companies expected Vice — along with rivals like BuzzFeed and Vox — to reinvent the media business through a focus on youthful content and an ability to draw in reader eyeballs from social media platforms. At the time, Vice and its backers dreamed of going public or selling at an even higher valuation.
Now those investors are set to be wiped out. Vice, like its peers, failed to wring profits from its audience, losing most of that revenue to the social networks that funneled readers to them. BuzzFeed has shut its news division and is at risk of being delisted from the Nasdaq, while Vox has slashed its valuation in half.
Vice could soon be taken over by major creditors, led by Fortress and Soros Fund Management, who first lent the publisher $250 million in 2019. The two have offered to essentially convert what Vice owes them into equity, to the tune of $225 million, as well as assume other “significant liabilities.” (They would also likely keep on Shane Smith, the publisher’s outspoken co-founder and most prominent personality.)
It’s unclear whether others will make offers, especially given the economic uncertainty around the online publishing business. For their part, Vice’s current leaders said the bankruptcy filing and subsequent sale would ultimately “strengthen the company.”
Where do chatbots fit into the workplace?
Morgan Stanley is testing whether chat tools powered by artificial intelligence will give its wealth management clients an investment edge. Wendy’s hopes A.I. will speed up burger orders at the drive-through. And Samsung has reportedly banned workers from using chatbots, citing security risks.
Business leaders are increasingly wrestling with how to use A.I. as ChatGPT and its rivals seize more and more of the public’s attention, and as customers, employees and investors ask where companies stand on the technology, Kevin Delaney writes for DealBook.
Here’s what’s at stake:
Moving too slowly may mean losing out on gains in productivity, customer service and — ultimately — competitiveness, similar to what happened to businesses that didn’t embrace the internet fully or fast enough. But at the same time, leaders must guard against the mistakes and biases A.I. often perpetuates and be thoughtful about what it means for employees.
“Almost no matter which sector you are in, you need to be thinking about your company as becoming an A.I.-first company,” said Alexandra Mousavizadeh, chief executive at Evident, a start-up that analyzes finance companies’ A.I. capabilities.
— Total family wealth in the United States in 2022, a more than threefold increase since 1989. More than half of that sum ($84 trillion) will be passed down from baby boomers to their heirs over the next 20 years, part of a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth, The Times calculates.
The week ahead
With the clock ticking down to the X-date — when the U.S. government runs out of money to pay its bills — this could be a pivotal week in the debt-ceiling talks. Also, the regional banking crisis will be in focus at a series of hearings. And the spending power of consumers will be a big focal point of earnings and of data releases.
Here’s what to watch:
Tuesday: Greg Becker, Silicon Valley Bank’s former C.E.O., and two former top executives of Signature Bank are expected to testify before the Senate Banking Committee about why the lenders collapsed. Expect similar questions of Michael Barr, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, who is set to appear before the House Financial Services Committee.
Meanwhile, Home Depot and Baidu report earnings. And retail sales data is set for release.
Wednesday: Cisco, Target and Tencent headline the day’s earnings reports.
Thursday: Walmart and Alibaba report results.
Friday: Foot Locker caps the flurry of retailer earnings results. Also, Deere reports.
THE SPEED READ
The investment giant TPG agreed to buy Angelo Gordon, an asset manager focused on private credit and real estate, for $2.7 billion. (TPG)
Shares in John Wood Group, a British engineering services provider, plunged after Apollo Global said it would no longer bid to buy the company. (Reuters)
Tiger Global, the tech-focused hedge fund, is reportedly weighing sales of some of its stakes in start-ups to raise cash. (FT)
Howard Marks of the investment group Oaktree warned that the boom in private credit faces its biggest test yet. (FT)
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