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  • Bloomberg

    Trump’s Latest ‘Russia Scandal’ Is Less Than It Appears

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- From the perspective of the Resistance, the scoops were both terrifying and vindicating: An intelligence official told lawmakers last week that the Russians were meddling again in U.S. elections and seeking to re-elect President Donald Trump. This infuriated the president, who abruptly fired the current director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and replaced him with a loyalist, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell.Unfortunately, there is less to this story than Trump’s opponents would like. There is no formal intelligence assessment, and the new DNI is only temporary. This is not a case of the president trying to suppress or distort intelligence.The Trump vs. the Intelligence Community narrative is so appealing to the resistance because it fits two of its favorite themes. The first is that Trump already colluded once with the Kremlin to win an election, and will again. The second is that Trump is now empowered, after the Senate acquitted him in the impeachment trial, to purge the government of his enemies.As Representative Adam Schiff tweeted, referring to stories in the New York Times and Washington Post: “We count on the intelligence community to inform Congress of any threat of foreign interference in our elections. If reports are true and the President is interfering with that, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling. Exactly as we warned he would do.”True, Trump provides opponents with ample ammunition for their narratives about Russia and vengeance. But Schiff is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. If anyone would know about an assessment that Russia was trying to re-elect Trump, he would. So was there such an assessment?In fact, Schiff — who was present at the briefing in question — knows that there is no formal intelligence finding that Russia is meddling on behalf of Trump. Administration and House Republican sources tell me that the intelligence official who was briefing the committee went “off script” when asked about Russia’s preference for Trump in the presidential election. No other representatives from the intelligence community at the briefing backed up her assertion, these sources say, nor did the briefers provide specific intelligence, such as intercepted emails or conversations, to support the claim.Jake Tapper of CNN is apparently hearing a similar story. On Friday he tweeted that one of his sources says the intelligence did not say the Russians had a “preference,” only that Trump “is someone they can work with, he’s a dealmaker.” The second narrative involves the decision to make Grenell the interim director of national intelligence. It’s true that Grenell lacks intelligence experience and that he has been an outspoken supporter of Trump. And while reports say Maguire was fired over last week’s briefing, White House officials tell me otherwise, noting he was scheduled to leave next month anyway. (Although the departure of Maguire’s principal deputy, Andrew Hallman, suggests deeper tensions with the White House.)Regardless, Grenell would be an odd choice if Trump wished to downplay Russian threats. To start, he is a longtime Russia hawk. Last year, for example, he warned German companies building the NordStream II pipeline between Germany and Russia that they would risk U.S. sanctions if they went forward with the project. More important, Grenell himself has said he will only be acting director, and that he expects the president will soon nominate someone else for the position. Intelligence assessments involve the input of 16 agencies and often take months to complete, so it would be near impossible for someone serving as acting director for a short period of time to suppress or alter intelligence products. (Maguire, by the way, was also an acting director.) So appointing Grenell may be less an effort to censor intelligence than a bit of hostage politics with the Senate. If the Senate doesn’t confirm Trump’s nominee, Grenell can serve for months. The two leading candidates for the job are Representative Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, and Pete Hoekstra, the current ambassador to the Netherlands and former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Both would likely face opposition from Democrats. The White House is hoping to force Democrats to hold their noses and not delay the confirmation.(Updates ninth paragraph to include news of departure of deputy director of national intelligence.)To contact the author of this story: Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Newman at mnewman43@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Trump’s Problematic Approach to Pardons

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Donald Trump is at it again, using his constitutional power of the pardon lawlessly as a way to reward, as the New York Times put it, “a who’s who of white-collar criminals from politics, sports and business who were convicted on charges involving fraud, corruption and lies.”For a president who sometimes wants to be treated as if he opposes corruption, it was yet another sad case of excusing or even embracing it. Once upon a time — for all recent presidents up through Barack Obama — pardons were carefully screened by professionals, and presidents would avoid any hint of partisanship or self-dealing. Now, in the deprofessionalized Trump administration, crooks send their representatives to Fox News to get the president’s attention.  I argued the case for the lawlessness of Trump’s approach to pardons long ago. Yes, an action can be both constitutionally authorized and also lawless. I will add a couple of points. A lot of analysts on Tuesday committed the cleverfallacy — assuming that Trump’s actions had some sort of complex rationale to them. While it’s always possible, the best explanation for Trump’s actions is his lack of impulse control. He wants what he wants, and he treats the presidency as something he won that allows him to do stuff he wants. Pardons are great for that, because they’re the closest thing to an absolute power the president has.The other point? Trump’s decision to commute the sentence of former Democratic governor of Illinois Rod R. Blagojevich produced immediate criticism from Republican members of the House from that state. Politico’s Jake Sherman was not alone in sneering at such reports: “But if you’re Trump, you know that Rs are going to fall in line behind you either way. So why not just do what you want?” But the problem here isn’t Republicans falling in line. In fact, it’s a pretty big deal for five Republicans to put out a statement criticizing a same-party president. And yes, it comes on top of Republican senators pushing against the president over war powers, and against his pick for the federal reserve. And after Republicans in both chambers of Congress having no interest at all in defending his budget proposal, which is (as usual) dead on arrival. And after his own attorney general rebuked him publicly and then was reported to be considering a resignation. No, the problem here is one of many in the media setting a ridiculous bar for what counts as Republican dissent against Trump — so that unless congressional Republicans are willing to remove him from office or leave the party over his behavior, we’re told that their pushback just doesn’t count. It is true, of course, that in many cases Republican criticism has been muted, or in other cases sharp criticism isn’t matched by votes. But same-party dissent is unusual, and it usually counts as news. To dismiss such things because they won’t push Trump out of office or because they seem insufficient giving the provocation is to give Trump a huge advantage over other politicians who are subject to endless rounds of “party in disarray” stories any time they receive same-party criticism. 1\. Julia Azari argues for preference voting to supplement traditional presidential primaries. 2\. Amy S. Patterson at the Monkey Cage on the coronavirus in Africa.3\. Dan Drezner on Michael Bloomberg’s campaign and its effect on the information environment. (Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)4\. Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Laura Bronner on public opinion and impeachment.5\. Nate Silver takes a careful look at the chances of Bernie Sanders winning the nomination.6\. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Andrea Gabor on school vouchers.Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe. Also subscribe to Bloomberg All Access and get much, much more. You’ll receive our unmatched global news coverage and two in-depth daily newsletters, the Bloomberg Open and the Bloomberg Close.(Corrects name of author in link No. 6.)To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Tracy Walsh at twalsh67@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Paul Krugman on Making Wonkery Accessible to the Public

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- How do you make esoteric economic wonkery accessible to the public?That was the challenge facing Paul Krugman when he began writing columns. Back then, he was better known for his oft-cited academic papers and the college economics textbook he had co-authored with with economist Robin Wells (who also happens to be his wife).Krugman describes how he began his career completely apolitically — he was called “ideologically colorblind” by Newsweek — and worked as a staffer in the Reagan White House. In the 1990s, he started writing a popular economics column for Slate, and then in 2000 moved to the New York Times. It was only during the George W. Bush administration that he became much more politically oriented and partisan.In 2008, Krugman won the Nobel’s Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences “for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity.”  He has written or edited more than 20 books and 200 scholarly articles, and his most recent book is Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future.We discuss how his real-life persona is different from what people imagine him to be like based on his written columns; in person, he’s really a “pussycat.”According to Krugman, today’s right-wing economists and policy makers are missing “reasonable conservatives” like Harvard’s Martin Feldstein — people who make coherent arguments based on facts and provable theory. He observes that in the 1980s, there were policy arguments about genuine issues. He notes there is less room for rationality on the right. He argues that “Zombie Ideas” (along with Donald Trump) have taken over the GOP, making it nearly impossible for bi-partisan legislation to move forward.His favorite books can be seen here; a transcript of our conversation is available here.You can stream and download our full conversation, including the podcast extras, on Apple iTunes, Overcast, Spotify, Google, Bloomberg, and Stitcher. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.Next week, with Brian Deese, Global Head of Sustainable Investing for Blackrock.To contact the author of this story: Barry Ritholtz at britholtz3@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Green Carmichael at sgreencarmic@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is chairman and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and was previously chief market strategist at Maxim Group. He is the author of “Bailout Nation.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Facebook Prepares for Wave of Influencer Marketing in Politics
    Bloomberg

    Facebook Prepares for Wave of Influencer Marketing in Politics

    (Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is trying to clarify how it will handle a new wrinkle in the world of digital political advertising: politicians paying influencers to post on social media platforms like Instagram, which it owns.In the past, political entities were technically barred from offering money for posts, which has become a common practice for marketers. But Facebook is changing its policy after a New York Times report this week about how Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is paying Instagram creators to make and distribute posts making him “look cool.”(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)A company spokeswoman said Facebook has heard from multiple campaigns about the subject, and wanted it to be easy for users to identify paid political speech, whether it was direct advertising or branded content. “Branded content is different from advertising, but in either case we believe it’s important people know when they’re seeing paid content on our platforms,” the spokeswoman said.Now Facebook is stepping up enforcement of rules — which had been inconsistent —  requiring influencers to use Facebook’s tool to tag paid posts with a prominent disclaimer. It said Friday it will require users who worked with the Bloomberg campaign to retroactively add these disclaimers to branded posts the campaign sponsored. “The campaign was explicitly clear that these posts were ads and sponsored content,” said Sabrina Singh, a Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman. “We went above and beyond to follow Instagram’s rules and the text of the post clearly shows that these are the campaign’s paid ads.” Facebook will now require political candidates buying branded content to register as political advertisers with the company. Unlike other political ads, branded posts won't end up in Facebook's ad archive unless the politician also pays Facebook to promote the posts.  Elizabeth Warren criticized Facebook for creating a new loophole. "Refusing to catalogue paid political ads because the Bloomberg campaign found a workaround means there will be less transparency for the content he is paying to promote. Mike Bloomberg cannot be allowed to buy an election with zero accountability," she wrote on Twitter.  The emergence of political branded content is a reminder of how hard companies have to work to keep up with the changing landscape of political speech.  These posts, also known as sponsored content —  or, if you must, “sponcon” — have pushed the boundaries of advertising for the last half-decade or so. As individual users on Instagram, Google’s YouTube, Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch and other platforms amassed large audiences, marketers began seeing them as a viable alternative to standard advertising. Influencers now regularly tout products in their posts.  Regulators have complained for years that they often do so without explaining that they’re being paid. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission sent dozens of letters to influencers and marketers requiring them to disclose any “material connection” that someone pitching a product had to advertisers. The commission is currently reviewing its endorsement policies, with an eye toward social media. “We may need new rules for tech platforms and for companies that pay influencers to promote products,” FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra wrote on Twitter this week. While Bloomberg’s campaign has drawn unprecedented attention to political branded content, he isn’t the first politician to fall for the charms of social media influencers. And as more money pours into political advertising in coming months, there will likely be candidates and other political entities willing to explore any potential advantage.  Gil Eyal, the chief executive of Hypr, a company that helps marketers find influencers for sponsored content deals, said he’s noticed a recent wave of interest from political entities. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries about how we can do this,” he said. He declined to name anyone who had contacted him, and said they’ve turned down the proposals. “We truthfully say this isn’t our forte,” he said. “I think they underestimate how hard this is to do.”  Main Street One, a New York-based startup, has been pitching Democratic and progressive organizations on influencer campaigns for months as a way to drown out online disinformation. It has run several such experiments. Late last year, it helped run an influencer campaign promoting Cory Booker funded by United We Win, a Democratic super PAC. This sparked a debate among influencers about whether accepting money from politicians was appropriate, and whether doing so would be bad for their personal brands.   Curtis Hougland, Main Street One’s chief executive officer, said the group doesn’t always pay influencers for posting — it’s also seeking out volunteers. But those it does pay can get as much as $500 per post. Finding the right influencers, he said, is a side-door way to effectively target messages. The company might pay more, he said, for posts from someone whose followers are clustered in a particular geographic region, or who fall into some other demographic they’re trying to reach.  The response has been mixed, said Hougland, with some potential clients concerned that the risk of such campaigns outweigh the benefits. In his view, mobilizing left-leaning social media influencers is the best way to reach voters in a distracted and messy online media environment. “Can we live with that risk tolerance?” he said. “I think by being less precious we can be more effective.” (Updates with comments from Bloomberg campaign in the sixth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Mark Niquette.To contact the author of this story: Joshua Brustein in New York at jbrustein@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Molly Schuetz at mschuetz9@bloomberg.net, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Dating Apps Aren’t Protecting You Or Your Data

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Have you used psychedelic drugs? Would you ever consider an open marriage? Would you risk your life to protest against an unjust government? Would you like your answers to these questions, which have been posed to users of online dating site OkCupid, to be shared with other companies to profile you, or used to match you with registered sex offenders? If your answer to the last questions are no, two new reports might have you deleting your profiles from major online dating sites like Grindr, Tinder, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish. (Happy Valentine’s Day!)First came a report in December by Columbia Journalism Investigations and ProPublica that surveyed 1,200 women who had used online dating sites over the last 15 years. The investigation found that over a third of them said they had been sexually assaulted by someone they met through a dating app. While the report cautioned that the survey was not scientific and the results can’t be extrapolated to all people using online dating apps (there are no reliable statistics on how many people are assaulted by people they meet online), if the figure is anywhere near accurate, online dating might be more dangerous than most people appreciate. As it turns out, Match Group — which owns Match, OkCupid, Tinder, Plenty of Fish and dozens of other dating brands — does not check users on all of its platforms against criminal databases. A spokesperson for the company admitted that “there are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products.” According to the Columbia Journalism Investigations report, “The lack of a uniform policy allows convicted and accused perpetrators to access Match Group apps and leaves users vulnerable to sexual assault.” As I have argued before, checking users against criminal databases wouldn’t solve the problem of sexual assaults; predators would simply create false profiles. But it’s unconscionable that the sites don’t take this basic safety precaution, suggesting a concerning disinterest in the well-being of their users.If that wasn’t frightening enough, another report, released in January by the nonprofit Norwegian Consumer Council, revealed that sites like Tinder and Grindr share with marketing and advertising companies their users’ exact locations and highly personal information such as ethnicity, sexual orientation and whether they say they've used illegal drugs. Though the dating apps are transmitting data about users and not their actual names, as the New York Times recently demonstrated, it is astonishingly easy to identify people using their location data on their mobile phones. After all, how many other people travel from your home to your place of work every morning? Regardless of what companies claim, these data points are not actually anonymous at all. Using answers to questions like these to target consumers with ads also makes people vulnerable to being preyed upon by companies and politicians who will exploit the most personal of information. For example, as McKenzie Funk noted in the Times, someone pegged by online questions as “neurotic” could be targeted with threatening ads warning that Democrats want to take his or her guns away; a person pegged as “introverted” and “agreeable” could be shown a different ad focused on values and tradition. Of course, the audiences for these ads are unlikely to realize that advertisers are using personal psychographic data they had obtained in order to manipulate viewers’ beliefs. Most people answering questions on dating apps are hoping they will provide insights that will help match them with compatible romantic partners — not exploit personality traits to craft messages to sell them deodorant or political ideas.This Valentine’s Day, maybe think twice — or at least a little harder — before logging on to your online dating profiles. If informed, aware users began to demand responsibility and transparency from their dating sites, I bet those companies would have a change of heart about their privacy and safety practices.To contact the author of this story: Kara Alaimo at kara.s.alaimo@hofstra.eduTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Kara Alaimo is an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University and author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She previously served in the Obama administration. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    For Barclays, Jeffrey Epstein Questions Go Beyond Jes Staley

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- That Jes Staley’s conduct as chief executive officer of Barclays Plc is being probed by British regulators for a second time is remarkable and troubling. More than most businesses, banks depend on the trust of their customers; the conduct of the boss is critical to that.The latest inquiry, by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority, is looking at Staley’s account of his relationship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. One mustn’t prejudge these things, but concerns about the bank’s future leadership and strategic direction will fester until the supervisors decide whether the 63-year-old American did anything wrong — even if the board is backing him.Staley’s push into investment banking has been paying off for Barclays, but it matters more that the British lender can show it has a sound culture at the top. Any doubts will unsettle clients, staff and investors, hurting day-to-day business and long-term confidence in the company.After reprimanding and fining Staley in 2018 for attempting repeatedly to unmask a whistleblower — a probe that came close to ending his tenure — the regulators are looking now at whether he was fully upfront with the Barclays board about how close he was to Epstein. The regulators had gone to Barclays last summer, when the controversy around Epstein blew up again, to ask about the ties between the two men.Staley says he’s been open with Barclays on Epstein going back to 2015. The bank’s own review of his disclosures concluded that he’d been “sufficiently transparent”; the board unanimously recommended his reelection later this year.For investors — who pushed the bank’s shares down as much as 4% on Thursday — understanding the scope and terms of the board’s review would have been helpful. Who was the external counsel and how was the review handled? What information did counsel have access to? It’s far from ideal that shareholders weren’t told about regulators probing Staley’s representations since at least December. The board, including chairman Nigel Higgins, has questions to answer too. Just how honest Staley has been on his dealings with Epstein is no small distraction, especially when viewed alongside the whistleblower episode. Epstein died in jail in August facing charges of sex-trafficking of minors. For decades, he cultivated ties to international elites that included billionaires and royalty.There’s little doubt that Staley and Epstein were in contact over many years. The two were introduced in 2000, when Staley was asked to run JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s private bank, where Epstein was already a client. Less clear is how the relationship evolved and whether the ties extended beyond what Barclays has defined as “professional.”According to a New York Times report, Staley visited Epstein in Florida when he was serving a prison sentence following a 2008 guilty plea of soliciting prostitutes, including a minor. Staley’s name also appeared as the referee in a 2013 banking application by Epstein, the Times has also reported. (A spokesman told the Times Staley had not been aware). In April 2015, Staley and his wife visited Epstein at his private Caribbean island. While contacts between the two “tapered off” after Staley left JPMorgan in 2012, the relationship didn’t end until late 2015, Staley said on Thursday. “I thought I knew him well and I didn’t,” Staley told reporters. “I deeply regret having had a relationship” with Epstein, he added.It may turn out to be a big regret. Reporting fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday, Barclays signaled 2020 will be challenging amid low interest rates and an uncertain economic outlook, and that it will be difficult to achieve profitability targets. It could do without another Staley controversy. His struggle will be retaining the confidence of those around him.To contact the author of this story: Elisa Martinuzzi at emartinuzzi@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Boxell at jboxell@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Elisa Martinuzzi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering finance. She is a former managing editor for European finance at Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Thomson Reuters StreetEvents

    Edited Transcript of NYT earnings conference call or presentation 6-Feb-20 1:00pm GMT

    Q4 2019 New York Times Co Earnings Call

  • Bloomberg

    With a Regulator Like This, Who Needs an Investment Banker?

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- The merger of T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. is an abomination. It reduces the number of wireless companies to three from four, defies decades of legal precedents and all but assures higher prices for consumers. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Tara Lachapelle lays out all the sorry details here.I’d like to aim my focus on the deal’s investment banker: Makan Delrahim. True, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust department wasn’t officially the investment banker.(1)But unofficially, the man responsible for deciding whether the deal would proceed worked hard behind the scenes to make it happen. He ought to get a fee.The Obama administration had rejected the deal earlier, and most analysts thought President Donald Trump’s Justice Department would turn it down as well. One of the big issues was what the deal would mean for the next-generation wireless network, known as 5G. If T-Mobile and Sprint merged, another company that was willing and able to build its own 5G network to compete with the other wireless carriers would have to come to the fore.According to texts that were made public as part of a lawsuit, Delrahim “played a crucial role in bringing together top executives of T-Mobile, Sprint and another company, Dish Network LLC, for negotiations,” as the New York Times put it. He coached executives of the three companies on how to approach legislators and persuade them to put pressure on Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, which also had to approve the deal. He gave his personal email address to Dish Chairman Charles Ergen so they could communicate behind the scenes.In the end, T-Mobile agreed to give Dish access to its network while the latter company — which has plenty of spectrum but has never been in the phone business — built its 5G competitor. (T-Mobile also made the somewhat unlikely promise that it would cover 97% of the U.S. with its own 5G network within three years.) Having brokered the Dish deal, Delrahim then approved T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint.In an article about Delrahim’s involvement, the Times said that “it is not unusual for a law enforcement official to work behind the scenes to help companies overcoming antitrust concerns.” In fact, it is extremely unusual — or at least it was before the Trump administration came along. Government regulators aren’t supposed to broker deals; they’re supposed to judge whether they pass antitrust muster.Usually, state attorneys general and the Justice Department are aligned on whether or not a deal should be approved. Not this time. When 13 states (plus the District of Columbia) sued to block the merger, Delrahim didn’t leave it to the companies to defend their deal. The Justice Department filed a brief on the side of the companies.If the states prevailed, he told the court, it would create chaos in the merger market because companies could no longer be sure that federal approval was all they needed to make a deal. He said that his division had expertise that the states lacked and therefore the court should defer to federal antitrust officials. Earlier, he told the Wall Street Journal that he “worries the merger market could suffer if the states prevail”— as if that’s his job.Why was Delrahim so gung-ho to push through the T-Mobile-Sprint deal? Because his boss, President Trump, wants to see the U.S. beat China in the race to establish 5G as the standard network — and that’s what T-Mobile was essentially promising. As regular readers know, the antitrust chief has consistently carried Trump’s water, opposing deals proposed by companies the president wanted to punish, like AT&T-Time Warner, while waving through deals proposed by his allies, like Disney-21st Century Fox. Most absurd of all, Delrahim’s division even sued the auto companies — on antitrust grounds — that sided with California over Washington in a fight over emissions standards. (The suit was dropped late last week.)Delrahim is one of the more public members of the Trump administration. He regularly gives high-minded speeches before groups that have an interest in antitrust law. He often harks back to old Supreme Court decisions, to important moments in antitrust, to the importance of protecting consumer welfare. To hear him talk, you’d think he was just as concerned with the rule of law as any of his predecessors.But to watch him act — as he just did during the T-Mobile-Sprint deal — is to realize that he’s just another Trump lackey putting the president before the people he’s supposed to serve.(1) The real bankers, interestingly, were two relatively new players: PJT Partners Inc., which advised T-Mobile US Inc., and the Raine Group, which counts Sprint’s parent Softbank Group Corp. among its clients.To contact the author of this story: Joe Nocera at jnocera3@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Niemi at dniemi1@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Joe Nocera is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He has written business columns for Esquire, GQ and the New York Times, and is the former editorial director of Fortune. His latest project is the Bloomberg-Wondery podcast "The Shrink Next Door."For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    The Faux Populism of Trumpified Architecture

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Even on a gloomy Sunday, with skies threatening rain, the U.S. Courthouse on First Street in downtown Los Angeles is strikingly beautiful. The clouds and surrounding buildings reflect in its pleated glass sides, which look far airier in person than in photographs. By breaking up its plane, the pleats call attention to the Great Seal etched in the glass. The American flag reflects in their panes.Opened in 2016, it’s a civic building that makes you happy to see it. Reviewers on Google and Yelp, including a grumpy juror, give it good marks.Catesby Leigh, by contrast, calls it a “Borg Cube.” I can only assume he has never actually watched “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Or maybe he’s too blinded by architectural theory to enjoy beauty that doesn’t conform.You probably haven't heard of Leigh. He’s a critic associated with the National Civic Art Society, a think tank that “endeavors to help architecture return to its pre-Modernist roots.” The society wants government buildings to re-adopt classical architectural styles: more domes and columns, less glass and steel. Its formerly obscure views are now enjoying the world’s largest megaphone.Last week, a draft executive order titled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” leaked to Architectural Record. (The Chicago Sun-Times obtained a copy and put it online.) The draft denounces modern architecture. It requires classical styles as the default architecture for all new federal buildings in the Washington D.C. area, including surrounding counties; for all federal buildings costing more than $50 million; and for all federal courthouses. It specifically forbids Brutalist and Deconstructionist styles. It establishes a President’s Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture to revise the principles that guide federal architecture commissions.It calls for the General Services Administration to solicit public comment on new building designs while specifically excluding “artists, architects, engineers, art or architecture critics, members of the building industry or any other members of the public that are affiliated with any interest group or organization involved with the design, construction or otherwise directly affected by the construction or remodeling of the building.”You could see that requirement as avoiding conflicts of interest — or as excluding anyone who knows what they’re talking about.Architects and critics were apoplectic.Classical styles are fascistic, suggested Artnet News. The Guardian warned of “dictator chic.” The order would constitute “a complete constraint on freedom of expression,” an architect told the New York Times. Even a nuanced historical article in Archinect News concluded with a reference to Nazi architect Albert Speer. New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman rightly identified the draft as Twitter bait.The response demonstrates how, even when he’s barely involved, President Donald Trump manages to effectively troll snooty elites by giving voice to widely held popular grievances. A lot of government buildings are indeed ugly. No matter how hated, they rarely get torn down. But the draft order also demonstrates Trump’s propensity for ham-handed remedies that would do more harm than good.As creators, architects face an inherent problem. They can’t do their work without clients. Writers, painters, sculptors — these days even filmmakers — can find ways to follow their muse even if their creations have little or no market. Beyond building homes for themselves (or their mothers), architects have few options.Construction is expensive, it requires land, and it needs people who’ll use it. That’s the real-world conflict at the heart of Ayn Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead,” which lampooned the throwback styles and populist attitudes the draft order promotes.Federal commissions offer relative freedom for architectural ambitions. “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government and not vice versa,” declare the guidelines in place since 1962. Written by a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan, these design principles reflect the technocratic modernism of the Kennedy era — the deference to experts and belief in the new that landed a man on the moon but also razed urban neighborhoods to make way for Brutalist government centers.Under those guidelines, the architecture profession itself acts as the client. The result can be a masterpiece like L.A.’s new courthouse — or a monstrosity like the headquarters of the F.B.I., the J. Edgar Hoover Building, one of Trump’s pet peeves.By contrast, the advocates of classical architecture position themselves as the voice of the people. “For too long architectural elites and bureaucrats have derided the idea of beauty, blatantly ignored public opinions on style, and have quietly spent taxpayer money constructing ugly, expensive and inefficient buildings,” the National Civic Art Society’s chairman told the Times.But if architects can’t represent the public, who can? That’s the problem at the heart of any government building project. Whose taste should rule? What should the balance be between saving money and creating meaningful, attractive buildings? What role should the people who’ll work in the building have? What is the right form for the building’s specific use? For federal buildings outside the capital, what voice should locals have? Who speaks for the client when the client is everyone?These are political, not technical, questions. You can’t reason your way to the single right answer. You can only try to strike a sensible balance — which isn’t exactly the Trump way.In an editorial attacking the executive order, the Chicago Sun-Times evoked the city’s federal plaza designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Ordinary locals find it striking, part of Chicago’s heritage of beautiful architecture, including many modern buildings.Leigh, by contrast, says the plaza “raises serious issues of appropriateness” and is “far better suited to the high-end corporate world and its promotion of itself as culturally au courant.” (The building was au courant a half century ago.) Dictating that your idea of civic appropriateness is right for all buildings in all times and places shouldn’t be confused with speaking for the public.What looks “civic” depends on experience, not architectural theory. In Los Angeles, where I live, traditional civic buildings are not classical. They’re not even the Mission style popular elsewhere in the state. They’re Moderne ziggurats with Art Deco features, like the L.A. city hall, or midcentury modern structures like the Wilshire Federal Building in West L.A. They reflect the eras in which the city was rapidly expanding.Some, like these examples, are attractive and popular, others less so. But all of them represent the actual city and its history, not an outsider’s idea of civic ideals. The eco-conscious 21st-century beauty of the new federal courthouse fits appropriately in its dense urban setting. Columns and domes would not. Neither would the red tile roofs of Santa Barbara.However great it may be for the Lincoln Memorial, classicism itself is no guarantee of good civic architecture. Packing columns onto a hulking monstrosity like the Eisenhower (formerly Old) Executive Office Building does not make it beautiful. Historical, yes. Meaningful because of that history, sure. But not attractive or inspiring or representative of American ideals.The sweeping language of the draft order simply replaces one group of architectural theories with another, one set of insiders with an even smaller one. Preserving the high-handed attitudes it claims to oppose, it avoids the hard questions. Even on its own grounds, its judgments and prescriptions are suspect.This architectural tiff is an argument among intellectuals with ideas about the ought of the built environment, not citizens with experience of the is. It might make government buildings more uniform, but it wouldn’t make them better.To contact the author of this story: Virginia Postrel at vpostrel@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Virginia Postrel is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She was the editor of Reason magazine and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New York Times and Forbes. Her next book, "The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World," will be published in 2020.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Why So Many Tech Startups Misbehave

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- It's hard to miss how many technology companies engage in increasingly questionable -- and occasionally reprehensible -- conduct. This is something beyond the unsavory frat bro behavior of people like Uber Technologies Inc. founder and former Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick. No, I mean companies whose very business models seem to be built around elements of fraud, deception and abuse of employees, partners and clients.Maybe it is a sign of what happens when too much capital sloshes through too few startups.(1) Whatever the underlying cause, one cannot help but notice some of the awful behavior in the venture-funded tech world. Consider these recent headlines:\-- "Court Rules It's Totally Cool for Yelp to Extort Businesses"\-- "Grubhub’s new growth hack is listing restaurants that didn’t agree to be listed"\-- "Delivery apps like DoorDash are using your tips to pay workers’ wages" There may be any number of reasons these companies might engage in such shoddy behavior, but the most obvious one seems to be that their business models are so lame that they must do shady stuff simply to keep the lights on.Disruption is a consequence of true innovation; that isn't the issue here. No, this points to something deeper and more troubling about the startup landscape.Let’s consider a few of these companies:Grubhub: The food-delivery company is in hot competition with other startup delivery companies. One of the things it's done: buy up domain names of its restaurant partners without their permission or even knowledge, thus making it hard or impossible for a restaurant to establish its own website without Grubhub's blessings. (Grubhub’s defense: It’s in our contract’s fine print.) The company also published shadow websites and misleading phone numbers of its restaurant partners to pull web traffic and phone orders away from them.I imagine Grubhub being pitched as the Uber of food delivery (though Uber also is in the food-delivery business). One key difference: There was no entrenched local monopoly similar to taxis. Instead, there are tens of thousands of local restaurants, many of which already deliver or offer takeout. Uber and Lyft used technology to break the monopoly: Grubhub and its related divisions -- Seamless, Eat24, MenuPages and AllMenus -- instead insert themselves as middlemen between restaurants and consumers. This seems to be true regardless of whether the restaurant is a willing participant or not.Maybe it's the big decline in Grubhub's share price that has led the company to stoop so low: the stock has fallen about 65% from its high in 2018.Yelp: The review site seems to have morphed into what its critics sometimes characterize as an extortion racket. The company has been accused by restaurant owners of hiding positive reviews unless those establishments advertise on Yelp.Business owners have challenged this model, with some even winning in small claims court.A broader class-action case was dismissed, with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that it was fine for Yelp to manipulate positive and negative reviews of its restaurant clients. As for the claims of the plaintiffs that Yelp functionally extorted them, the court said too bad; Yelp was under no obligation to be even-handed or fair.Lots of outrage over this eventually led to a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary, "Billion Dollar Bully." The problem has caused Yelp so much reputational harm that the company felt compelled to set up a page on its website with the headline, "Yelp Does Not Extort Local Businesses or Manipulate Ratings."Nevertheless, the market has mounting doubts about Yelp and its business: the shares have declined 65% from their peak in 2014.DoorDash: How well does the gig economy pay? That was what a New York Times reporter wanted to find out. So he started working as a food-delivery man for some of the more popular apps, including DoorDash. He discovered that the pay wasn't great -- as little as $5 an hour to as much as $20 for "Jedi Masters" \-- and it's falling as the apps attract more delivery people.It also turned out that DoorDash and others were keeping the tips -- all of which employees were supposed to get -- and using them to subsidize workers' base pay. The subsequent uproar over the Times article led DoorDash and others to change tipping policies.DoorDash also was sued for using a fake In-N-Out Burger logo on its website and offering unauthorized deliveries for the fast-food chain.One thing becomes obvious when looking at these companies: they are all in hyper-competitive, low-margin businesses where economies of scale are either minimal or don't exist.But more to the point, it makes you wonder if these companies actually solve a consumer problem. There are reasonably credible review sites online such as Zagat, so why does anyone need to turn to suspect reviews on Yelp. As for restaurants that already offer meal delivery -- and there are many -- third-party delivery apps are superfluous.In other words, these are businesses that are responding to market signals the wrong way. Instead of bending the law and trampling all over ethical standards, they probably should rethink their business models -- or just close their doors.(1) Theself-dealing sweetheart arrangementsof Adam Neumann, WeWork’s founder and former CEO, was a special case, the result mainly of a weak and conflicted board of directors.To contact the author of this story: Barry Ritholtz at britholtz3@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is chairman and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and was previously chief market strategist at Maxim Group. He is the author of “Bailout Nation.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Our Decadent Energy System Needs Renewal

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Like many of you, I’m sure, I read Ross Douthat’s essay on “The Age of Decadence” in Sunday’s New York Times while sprawled on a chaise, picking at my smashed avo and laudanum. Stirring from the languor, I wondered: How does energy fit with this thesis?Our energy system is decadent at a fundamental level. Roughly four fifths of what is called primary energy consumption comes from burning fossil fuels, and thermodynamics ensure the majority of that kind of “consumption” is actually just waste heat (see this). We absorb the pump price of buying four gallons of gasoline for the useful energy of one because that one remains incredibly energy-dense and convenient.The convenience of fossil fuels gets at the other aspect of their decadence. As used currently, they are the definition of living for the moment. Modern society results from our use of coal, oil and gas. But as Thomas Edison lamented a century ago, “we live like squatters,” burning the fixtures for heat, light and transport. Transitioning away from that model isn’t easy, especially for certain applications such as aviation, or for the many without decadent levels of income or wealth. Still, in the developed world, our unwillingness to comprehensively price fossil fuels’ externalities — especially greenhouse gas emissions — is at this point a conscious decision to prioritize excesses such as overbuilt SUVs over coming generations’ access to a safe and prosperous environment. What’s more decadent than that?Emerging economies are in a different position, seeking raw calorific power to attain standards of living achieved by the West decades ago. This underpins a common riposte to calls for decarbonization, effectively casting oil majors and coal miners as the saviors of, say, Bangladeshi farmers. It’s a beguiling argument only if you assume nature gives a damn about inequities and define the standard of living in narrow terms. Diesel-run machinery and coal-fired electricity are undoubted boons to those struggling without them today. But then you must face the troublesome point that Bangladesh is ranked in the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.The seeming Gordian Knot of addressing climate change while simultaneously serving the world’s underpowered multitudes gets to the part of Douthat’s essay with which energy doesn’t fit. One of his signs of decadence is the apparent exhaustion of meaningful, and profitable, innovation in our self-indulgent, screen-addled 21st century economy: “We used to go to the moon; now we make movies about space.”Fine. Juicero and all that. Point taken.Yet the past 10 years have shown the energy sector to be anything but stagnant and inconsequential. U.S. oil and gas production just engineered its biggest decade ever on the back of sheer experimentation (climate folks, hold that thought). It also saw the cost of wind and solar technology decline by approximately 50% and 90%, respectively (90% for lithium-ion battery storage, too). The U.K., whose coal fields birthed the industrial revolution, now goes for days at a time without burning a single lump for its power. And electric vehicles — Edison’s forlorn dream — have gone from curio to dominating marginal growth in several major vehicle markets, including China’s. Work on a swarm of other potential breakthroughs, ranging from carbon capture to vehicle-to-grid power flows, continues.As with any dynamic endeavor, there is mess, contradiction and waste. The shale boom that helped tip coal into terminal decline in the U.S. is partly built on the same cheap financing and weak governance underpinning the Silicon Valley flame-outs and deadbeats cited by Douthat. It is also heavily subsidized by the socialization of the costs of its emissions. Renewables have also seen their fair share of dead-end technologies and business models that run on sub-2% Treasuries just as much as photons. Meanwhile, Tesla Inc. has undoubtedly pushed electric vehicles further toward the mainstream; but sustained profitability, especially at levels commensurate with its valuation, remains elusive.Yet the profound changes witnessed in energy over the past decade have been achieved even in the absence of overhauling its underlying system of incentives and penalties. Imagine what could be done if we actually priced the atmosphere and other natural resources as the scarce commodities they are, rather than just treating them as endless landfill. Besides the decadent West, the technologies encouraged by such signals could also offer sustainable answers to the Bangladeshi farmer’s privations without simultaneously raising profound risks for their descendants.Like his look back at the men on the moon, Douthat quotes technology tycoon Peter Thiel’s lament that “we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” Ah, the wryness. But then one recalls that, even as he yearns for meaningful innovation, Thiel also went out of his way to help elect a president who floats notions about wind-turbine noise causing cancer and leads a party where many reflexively dismiss inconvenient science and ditch their professed faith in market economics whenever carbon enters the equation. Even genius has its foibles.The point is that there is plenty of innovation happening, and waiting to happen, in energy — if we choose to encourage it. We put a man on the moon because our priority was winning a Cold War. We haven’t yet found an existential need for flying cars.Dealing with the deferred costs of modernization by retooling our energy grids and transportation is a challenge of even greater importance and scope, encompassing innovation in technology, markets and how we organize our built environment. A cost-effective, scalable means of storing electrical energy for days, weeks or months at a time would do far more for society than another lunar landing. All of this carries moonshot risks and Apollo-level opportunities for achievement. And it addresses issues that, even if we have persuaded ourselves otherwise, cut across political affiliation. If decadence is the problem, then few endeavors offer a route to renewal like fixing the ills of our energy system.To contact the author of this story: Liam Denning at ldenning1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy, mining and commodities. He previously was editor of the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column and wrote for the Financial Times' Lex column. He was also an investment banker.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Top Ranked Momentum Stocks to Buy for February 10th
    Zacks

    Top Ranked Momentum Stocks to Buy for February 10th

    Top Ranked Momentum Stocks to Buy for February 10th

  • The New York Times Company Analysts Are Pretty Bullish On The Stock After Recent Results
    Simply Wall St.

    The New York Times Company Analysts Are Pretty Bullish On The Stock After Recent Results

    Shareholders of The New York Times Company (NYSE:NYT) will be pleased this week, given that the stock price is up 17...

  • American Mothers Are Dying Because of the U.S. Health Care System
    Bloomberg

    American Mothers Are Dying Because of the U.S. Health Care System

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- The U.S. has a weirdly high maternal death rate. It’s a symptom of a sick health care system.The number of women dying of complications of pregnancy and childbirth is going down in all developed countries except the United States. New statistics released last week show that the U.S. maternal death rate has continued to climb, and is now four to six times higher than in many European countries.This problem is tied up with the country’s rising rates of heart disease and the way cardiovascular deaths are creeping into younger age groups. People tend to associate heart disease with older men, but almost as many women die of heart disease. In fact, it’s the number one killer of women, and can also affect women of childbearing age.The new CDC numbers measure deaths during pregnancy and up to 42 days after delivery. They give a figure of 17.4 per 100,000 births, or 658 women per year, with a big racial discrepancy. The rate is 14.7 per 100,000 for white women and 37.1 for African American women.Those numbers don’t reveal the whole picture, says Nandita Scott, cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Pregnancy puts an enormous stress on a woman’s cardiovascular system, imposing changes that last well beyond the 42 days. When you look at maternal deaths up to a year after delivery, those numbers look even worse. For African American women, the CDC shows a death rate of 42.4 women per 100,000 births.The effects of pregnancy on the human body are amazing, she said in a talk she gave the day before the CDC released its new figures. Heart rate goes up, dilutional anemia occurs, blood volume increases and cardiac output increases by 30-50%. To prepare the pelvic area to deliver the baby, hormonal changes occur that can also weaken the blood vessels, and that can put some women at risk for a tearing of the arteries.Since she didn’t have the latest CDC numbers at the time she gave her talk, she used a combination of older numbers and data from the Global Burden of Disease Study, published in 2016 in the journal The Lancet. All the numbers showed a consistent problem: Pregnancy imposes a massive physical strain that can be fatal for women with pre-existing health conditions. And increasing numbers of U.S. women are entering their pregnancy less healthy.To be sure, the statistics show that many maternal deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to issues unrelated to heart disease, such as hemorrhage or infection, or the result of mental illness. But 30% to 40% of the maternal deaths in the U.S. are associated with cardiovascular problems, such as cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), blood pressure abnormalities known as pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, and embolism (artery-clogging blood clots.)Tennis star Serena Williams suffers from a clotting disorder and nearly died from an embolism after giving birth to her daughter in 2017. According to her account of the ordeal in the New York Times, she knew she was prone to blood clots, but had trouble convincing the hospital staff to treat her for them when she started realizing there was a problem.Scott said it’s not standard for cardiologists to get training to deal with pregnant women. But as one of the few women in her field — the only one in her fellowship class — she started looking into the problem. “I don’t think cardiologists knew we needed to be part of the solution,” she says. Why has the problem gotten worse in the United States but not in Europe? Scott says it’s a combination of factors. U.S. women are more likely to have untreated cardiovascular problems and less likely to get proper healthcare during and after pregnancy. The quality of U.S. healthcare is variable from one region to another. And in the U.S., women have been getting more caesarian sections, which put them at risk of more complications than vaginal births.Access to birth control is another problem that affects many women in the United States. Cardiologists sometimes advise women with high risk heart problems not to get pregnant, but may not follow up on how patients can safely achieve this. There are different contraceptive recommendations depending on the severity of your cardiovascular condition. And there’s been too little awareness. States vary in their reporting diligence, and many hadn’t been regularly indicating pregnancy on death certificates. The new CDC numbers come after an eleven-year gap because public health officials hadn’t been able to successfully track the problem. Scott said this lack of surveillance is disturbing considering how badly the U.S. is doing compared to its peer group.The good news is that California has started an effort to improve maternal health care and started to lower maternal mortality. And other countries demonstrate that the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. isn’t a biological inevitability, but something but something that can be extremely rare when women get good health care in pregnancy and beyond.To contact the author of this story: Faye Flam at fflam1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Green Carmichael at sgreencarmic@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Faye Flam is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She has written for the Economist, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Psychology Today, Science and other publications. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • U.S. Closes Antitrust Probe of Carmakers Over Emissions Pact
    Bloomberg

    U.S. Closes Antitrust Probe of Carmakers Over Emissions Pact

    (Bloomberg) -- The Justice Department has abandoned its antitrust probe of four automakers that sided with California over President Donald Trump in a fight over the future of fuel economy and emissions requirements.The inquiry had targeted Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., BMW AG and Volkswagen AG over their agreement last year with California regulators to voluntarily meet the state’s targets for fuel economy and tailpipe emissions. The decision was seen as undercutting Trump’s plan to relax the national requirements and was decried by the administration at the time as a “PR stunt.”California Governor Gavin Newsom cheered the Justice Department’s decision to back down, calling it “a big loss for the president and his weaponization of federal agencies.”“These trumped up charges were always a sham -- a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to prevent more automakers from joining California and agreeing to stronger emissions standards,” Newsom said in an emailed statement.The move to back down from the investigation was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition they not be identified. Ford and BMW also said that the Justice Department had closed the investigation.The department and the California Air Resources Board declined to comment. Representatives of Honda and VW didn’t immediately comment. The New York Times previously reported the move.The Justice Department raised concerns in August that the deal might be in violation of antitrust statutes, and the automakers were sent civil investigative demands late last year.The Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department also warned California regulators last September that the pact appeared “inconsistent with federal law” and its commitments “may result in legal consequences.“California officials had maintained that discussions with automakers over the emissions requirements were conducted individually, rather than with the entire group.The Trump administration has moved on multiple fronts against California since the auto pact, with federal regulators rapping the state’s work to clean up air pollution and blasting it for allowing “piles of human feces” and pollution to foul nearby waterways.The Trump administration is preparing to finalize a rule easing Obama administration emissions and fuel-economy requirements this spring.Separately, it already moved ahead with the most controversial aspect of its sweeping plan to reshape auto efficiency rules by stripping California of its authority to set tailpipe greenhouse gas standards that are tougher than federal requirements. Federal agencies finalized that move last fall, and litigation over the issue is underway now.(Updates with comments from Governor Newsom from fourth paragraph)\--With assistance from David Welch, Ryan Beene and Gabrielle Coppola.To contact the reporters on this story: David McLaughlin in Washington at dmclaughlin9@bloomberg.net;Jennifer A. Dlouhy in Washington at jdlouhy1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net, John HarneyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • New York Times Shows Market Leadership, Stock Jumps To 88 RS Rating
    Investor's Business Daily

    New York Times Shows Market Leadership, Stock Jumps To 88 RS Rating

    New York Times Company shows improving price performance, earning an upgrade to its IBD Relative Strength Rating from 66 to 88. Can it continue?

  • NY Times (NYT) Up on Q4 Earnings Beat, Subscriptions Increase
    Zacks

    NY Times (NYT) Up on Q4 Earnings Beat, Subscriptions Increase

    The New York Times Company's (NYT) digital advertising revenues decrease during fourth-quarter 2019. Management now expects digital advertising to return to growth by the second half of 2020.

  • New York Times stock soars to 15-year high after earnings beat, dividend hike and debts paid off
    MarketWatch

    New York Times stock soars to 15-year high after earnings beat, dividend hike and debts paid off

    Shares of New York Times Co. vaulted to a 15-year high Thursday, after the media company reported a fourth-quarter profit that was well above expectations, hiked its dividend by 20% and paid off all its debt.

  • Will New York Times Continue to Surge Higher?
    Zacks

    Will New York Times Continue to Surge Higher?

    As of late, it has definitely been a great time to be an investor in The New York Times

  • Casper Was Ill-Prepared to Leave Unicorn Realm for Real World
    Bloomberg

    Casper Was Ill-Prepared to Leave Unicorn Realm for Real World

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- For the latest in disruption, I direct your attention to a phenomenon Silicon Valley has labeled “DTC” — direct to consumer.A half dozen years ago, Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s were small companies selling razors and blades online at rock-bottom prices. Today, they have 10% of the market while mighty Gillette’s market share has dropped 20 percentage points. Warby Parker created a direct-to-consumer model for eyeglasses. Glossier did the same for beauty products. Rent the Runway leases designer clothes and accessories. These companies were all unicorns — “billion dollar brands,” to borrow from the title of a new book(1)on the DTC phenomenon by Larry Ingrassia, a former top editor at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times (and, full disclosure, my former boss).Casper Sleep Inc. was a unicorn once, too. Just last May, the online mattress company raised $100 million from its venture capitalists, giving it a valuation of $1.1 billion. But on Thursday, the company went public at $12 a share, down from a hoped-for $17 to $19. Even with a first day pop of 12.5%, its post-IPO market value is about half of what it was just nine months ago.Without question, part of Casper’s problem was that it went public when Wall Street has become wary of money-losing unicorns. Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and Peleton Interactive Inc. have all disappointed — not to mention WeWork parent We Co., which was forced to pull its IPO last year. But there is another reason, too: Casper just hasn’t been run all that well.“No market has been disrupted as much as the mattress market,” Ingrassia told me. “There is virtually no barrier to entry.”It’s true: You buy some something called viscoelastic memory foam, wrap it in fabric — and presto, you’ve got a mattress. The foam can also be compressed so that it fits in a relatively small box and can be shipped for as little as $50.In addition, the direct-to-consumer mattress companies have been helped by the fact that many consumers dislike buying a mattress in a retail store, which can often feel like trying to buy a used car. Most retailers also have onerous return policies, requiring customers to pay a 20% restocking fee in addition to the cost of sending back the mattress.The DTC companies sell mattresses that are just about as good as a well-known brand like Simmons, and they offer free returns. There are an astonishing 175 DTC mattress companies.Casper, which was founded in 2014, began life with a $1.6 million seed investment from the venture fund Lerer Hippeau. To its credit, the company quickly established itself through clever ads and YouTube videos. By 2017, according to Ingrassia, it had raised $240 million, some of which went to fund research and development but most of which went to advertising. By the time it went public, it had raised $355 million in venture capital. Meanwhile, in all that time, it never made a dime.Lots of startups lose money, of course, even six years in. But compare Casper’s numbers with those of its two main competitors, Tuft & Needle and Purple Innovations. Tuft & Needle never took a penny of venture money and was profitable almost from day one. With money tight, it didn’t have much choice. In 2018, after the company had been in business six years, Serta Simmons Bedding LLC bought it for a reported $400 million to $500 million.Purple Innovations, which is publicly traded, has also lost money, but relatively small amounts. In 2018, for instance, its adjusted loss was $11.2 million, according to Bloomberg data. But in 2019, it went solidly in the black.By contrast, Casper’s numbers are ugly. According to its prospectus, it lost $82 million in 2018 and estimates that it lost $70 million to $74 million in 2019. Profitability is a long way off.Nor are the losses the only red flag in Casper’s government filings. To show Wall Street that it is more than just a mattress company, Casper branched out into other products like pillows and duvets. But it declined to break out the revenue for those products. It disclosed that it had spent $422.8 million on marketing — at least $65 million more than it had raised as a private company. And its revenue growth is slowing.Among the biggest expenses for a DTC mattress company are those free returns. Unlike its two big competitors, Casper does not appear to have mastered the art of minimizing them. (“As a young company, we are still learning about the factors affecting customer returns and believe we have the opportunity to reduce customer return rates,” Casper said in its prospectus.)Ultimately, Casper’s problem is a little like the problem that afflicted WeWork: awash in money, it spent too freely and lacked the discipline of its biggest competitors. That’s what shines through in its financials.But even though it didn’t get the amount it had hoped for, Casper still managed to raise $100 million. Its revenue is approaching $500 million. And, as it points out in the prospectus, the “sleep economy,” as the company calls its potential market, is huge: $432 billion, it estimates.It’s certainly possible that Casper will be able to grab a big enough piece of that market to become profitable. But first, it will have to get control of itself.(Updates with closing price increase in the third paragraph.)(1) The full title is “Billion Dollar Brand Club: How Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker and Other Disruptors are Remaking What We Buy.”To contact the author of this story: Joe Nocera at jnocera3@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Niemi at dniemi1@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Joe Nocera is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He has written business columns for Esquire, GQ and the New York Times, and is the former editorial director of Fortune. His latest project is the Bloomberg-Wondery podcast "The Shrink Next Door."For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • MarketWatch

    UPDATE: New York Times beats earnings estimates for Q4 as subscriptions rise

    New York Times Co. shares rose 2.3% in premarket trade Thursday, after the newspaper company topped estimates for the fourth quarter. The company said it had net income of $68.212 million, or 41 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, up from $55.199 million, or 33 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Adjusted per-share earnings came to 43 cents, ahead of the 29 cents FactSet consensus. Revenue rose to $508.4 million from $502.7 million, also ahead of the $502.0 million FactSet consensus. The company said it added more than a million net new total digital-only subscriptions in 2019 and had 5.25 million total subscriptions as of year-end. "In Q4, we added a total of 342,000 net new digital-only subscriptions, of which 232,000 were to our core news product, the balance to Cooking and Crosswords, with Cooking in particular having a spectacular end to a strong year with 68,000 new subscriptions in the quarter," Chief Executive Mark Thompson said in a statement. "The 232,000 net new subscriptions to our core digital-only news product were 35 percent more than in Q4 2018, and 134 percent more than in Q4 2017." The company is rolling out a price increase for some of its tenured digital-only subscribers this week, the first since it installed a paywall in 2011. The board raised the quarterly dividend to 6 cents a share from 5 cents a share in the previous quarter. The new dividend will be payable April 23 to shareholders of record as of April 8. Looking ahead, the company is expecting first-quarter subscription revenue to rise in the mid-single digits, with digital-only revenue expected to rise in high teens. Ad revenues are expected to fall about 10% with digital ad revenue expected to fall in the mid-single digits. Shares have gained 15% in the last 12 months, while the S&P 500 has gained 22%.

  • Apple’s News Service Business Chief Departs After Slow Start
    Bloomberg

    Apple’s News Service Business Chief Departs After Slow Start

    (Bloomberg) -- The head of business for Apple Inc.’s news app stepped down less than a year after launching a high-profile subscription product that has struggled to attract paying readers.Liz Schimel, the outgoing executive, joined in mid-2018 after serving as the president of international business at magazine publisher Conde Nast, said people familiar with the move who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters. At Apple, Schimel oversaw relationships with advertisers and news publishers.Apple is seeking to hire a notable name from the publishing world to replace Schimel, one of the people said. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.News is a key part of Apple’s shift to subscription services as it tries to squeeze more revenue from customers. The company introduced Apple News in 2015 as an app to aggregate stories from a variety of sources and added a $10 monthly subscription last March that includes digital magazines and access to newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.However, Apple was unable to secure a deal with two of America’s largest newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The papers were wary of handing over their reporting for a bundle that, in some cases, undercuts the price of their own plans.In addition to subscriptions, Apple News generates revenue from advertising inside the app, which runs on nearly all Apple devices. The company said in January that the Apple News app is used by 100 million people a month in Australia, Canada, the U.K. and U.S., but it didn’t disclose the number of paying customers, as it has done for Apple Music.The company has been similarly vague about demand for other newer subscription offerings. On a recent call to discuss quarterly financial results, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said the new video streaming service, Apple TV+, is off to a “rousing start” and that it’s being judged internally based on subscriber numbers. He said it won’t have a “material financial impact” in the near term. Apple generated $12.7 billion in revenue from services in the holiday quarter, slightly below an average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.Apple’s services, including books, iCloud, news and video, are overseen by Peter Stern, a top lieutenant of Eddy Cue. Schimel reported to Stern, and her counterpart in editorial is Lauren Kern, a former executive editor of New York magazine who’s now editor in chief of Apple News.In a bid to increase subscribers, Apple is considering bundling News with Apple TV+ and Apple Music as soon as this year, Bloomberg reported in November. In the meantime, the company has advertised heavily for Apple News+ and offered promotions. At times, it has extended the free trial period to three months, from one, and courted customers of Uber Technologies Inc. with offers of free trials through the ride-hailing app.To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Gurman in Los Angeles at mgurman1@bloomberg.net;Gerry Smith in New York at gsmith233@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Alistair Barr at abarr18@bloomberg.net, Mark Milian, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Democrats Promise Iowa Results Tuesday in Bid to Save Caucus
    Bloomberg

    Democrats Promise Iowa Results Tuesday in Bid to Save Caucus

    (Bloomberg) -- Iowa Democrats will finally release most of the much-delayed results from their troubled caucuses by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, hoping to salvage the process after a disastrous night cast doubts on its key role in the presidential nominating process.State party chairman Troy Price told the campaigns on a conference call that more than 50% of the results would be released after the party “worked through the night” to check the quality of its tabulation and to collect any outstanding data.On Monday night, the caucuses that were meant to give shape to the Democratic presidential race devolved into political embarrassment for the party and left candidates and voters hanging with no results and no springboard into the next round of contests, including New Hampshire’s primary in seven days.The top Democratic candidates, except Joe Biden, claimed strong showings using their internal analysis. Biden’s campaign didn’t have the organization in place to collect the data, an emblem of his struggling effort in Iowa.One candidate who didn’t compete in Iowa, Michael Bloomberg, moved to capitalize on the chaos by authorizing his team to double his already record spending on advertisements and doubling his field staff to 2,000 people, the New York Times reported. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.The chaos in Iowa began when an attempt to modernize the arcane caucus system and make it more transparent melted down with the introduction of new technology and more complex rules. The Iowa Democratic Party said it was unable to release results from Monday’s caucuses after discovering “inconsistencies” in reporting from some precincts.Partial ReturnsBiden’s campaign expressed concern on the state party’s conference call about the plans to release partial returns.But Sanders’ senior adviser Jeff Weaver responded that the party should release results as they’re available and that only campaigns that fared badly -- implying Biden’s -- wanted a delay.“In the interest of not discrediting the party, the folks who are just trying to delay the return of this because of their relative positioning in the results last night, I think that’s a bit disingenuous,” Weaver said.After virtual silence on Monday night, the state Democratic Party said Tuesday morning that it had identified a flaw in the phone application used to report results that led to the failed vote tabulation.“We determined with certainty that the underlying data collected via the app was sound,” Price, the state chairman, said in the statement. “While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data. We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system. This issue was identified and fixed.”The party’s clean-up efforts are unlikely to quiet critics.An official with Biden’s campaign confirmed that his team had previously used services from the vendor that created Iowa’s failed app, but stopped because its IT team expressed security concerns. However, the campaign didn’t use the specific app that the Iowa Democratic Party adopted.Earlier Tuesday, Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, said in a Fox News interview that the federal department had offered to review the Iowa Caucus app, but the offer was rebuffed.In the void, several campaigns leaked unverified internal campaign data -- submitted by their own precinct captains -- to claim a strong showing.Pete Buttigieg effectively delivered his victory speech to supporters, saying, “By all indications we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.” Bernie Sanders’s campaign also released a ranking that showed Sanders at No. 1. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign said she outperformed Biden for fourth place.None of those results could be confirmed.Electoral CredibilityPresident Donald Trump on Tuesday morning claimed on Twitter that he was “the only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night,” referring to the Republican caucuses where he easily triumphed. He called the Democratic results “an unmitigated disaster.”The Iowa contest is the first in a long cycle of caucuses and primaries that stretches until June -- awarding just 1% of the delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. But Iowa offers outsized momentum to its strong finishers as they headed to New Hampshire a week away. Sanders leads the polls there comfortably, followed by Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Buttigieg.The Iowa Democratic Party said there was no evidence of hacking in the stalled reporting of results, merely human error and other inconsistencies that forced the party to resort to hand-counting the votes.What happened was that the state party deployed a new phone app for precinct chairmen to report results at the same time it deployed a new system for tabulating winners. Both appear to have failed.Precinct chairmen found it difficult to use the app and instead resorted to calling a hotline. The hotline got so jammed up that they were waiting for 30 minutes or more for someone to answer. Then the party reported there were “inconsistencies” in the count and decided to withhold announcing results until at least Tuesday.‘Full Explanations’Biden’s campaign was the most muted about its Iowa showing, preferring instead to issue a sharply worded letter from the campaign’s general counsel, demanding “full explanations and relevant information” about its quality control efforts and a chance to respond “before any official results are released.”Biden, who had been leading in national polls but was struggling in Iowa, said he was moving on to the New Hampshire primary and beyond. “We’re in this for the long haul,” he told a crowd in Des Moines.Trump’s campaign and his allies ridiculed the Democrats for the chaos and used it to try to stoke divisions among the candidates, suggesting the party was trying to “fix” the results. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, called it “the sloppiest train wreck in history.”“And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system?” he said in an email.The disruption in the reporting is likely to accelerate calls for an end to caucuses. Only three other states -- Nevada, Wyoming and Kansas -- still use the caucus system in the nomination race as the national party has tried to shift states toward using primaries.The Iowa Democratic Party went into the 2020 caucuses touting a series of reforms intended to make the process more fair, accountable and transparent.There are now three sets of results reported, allowing greater visibility into who participants supported in the first and second rounds, as supporters of candidates who don’t meet a 15% threshold are given a chance to join with backers of other candidates.The party developed a smartphone app to expand the online reporting of results from precincts to party headquarters. And there’s a paper trail of presidential preference cards filled out by each caucus-goer, allowing the party to re-create the results even after the caucus ends.But the rule changes created chaos and confusion.The delay in reporting results followed complaints from some local party officials that they were struggling to use the new telephone application to report tallies from precincts.The party first used a smartphone application to report results in 2016, but before then, all results were submitted by phoning them in.“A lot of us are going to be doing it on paper and calling it in,” said Kelcey Brackett, the chairman of the Muscatine County Democratic Party.(Updates with Sanders and Biden representatives starting in seventh paragraph)\--With assistance from Gregory Korte, Jennifer Jacobs and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.To contact the reporters on this story: Tyler Pager in Des Moines at tpager1@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Epstein in Des Moines at jepstein32@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Larry LiebertFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.