SAN FRANCISCO — Digital currency, once mocked as a tool for criminals and reckless speculators, is sliding into the mainstream.
Traditional banks are helping investors put their money into cryptocurrency funds. Companies like Tesla and Square are hoarding Bitcoin. And celebrities are leading the way in a digital-art spending spree using a technology called an NFT.
On Wednesday, digital or cryptocurrencies will take their biggest step yet toward wider acceptance when Coinbase, a start-up that allows people to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, goes public on Nasdaq. Coinbase shares received a reference price of $250 each on Tuesday evening, which would value the company at $65 billion based on all its outstanding shares.
Call it crypto’s coming-out party. Coinbase, founded in San Francisco, is the first major cryptocurrency start-up to go public on a U.S. stock market. It is doing so at a valuation that tops that of Capital One Financial Corporation or Moody’s, the ratings agency.
plan to “create an open financial system for the world” and “increase economic freedom.”
But so far, cryptocurrency is mostly a vehicle for financial speculation and trading. Few people want to use Bitcoin for everyday purchases like coffee because its price is so volatile. Many early buyers have become wildly rich by simply holding their crypto or “buying the dip” when prices fall. Others ruefully relay tales of the sushi dinner they bought with Bitcoin years ago that would be worth $200,000 today or the million-dollar pizza.
Coinbase eases that trading by acting as a central exchange. Before it and similar services were created, people had to set up their own digital wallets and wire money.
“Can it be anything more than an asset class?” Mr. Tusk asked. “That’s still very much up in the air.”
Silk Road, a marketplace for buying and selling drugs and weapons with Bitcoin until the federal authorities shut it down, and Mt. Gox, a crypto exchange that collapsed under accusations of theft and embezzlement, further tarnished the young industry.
Coinbase tried to change that. The company joined Y Combinator, a prestigious start-up program, and raised money from top venture capital firms including Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.
Mr. Armstrong was one of the few people in the industry who seemed prepared to comply with inevitable regulations, rather than cut corners to avoid them, said Nick Tomaino, who dropped out of business school to join Coinbase in 2013.
Coinbase also persuaded well-known retailers to accept Bitcoin. “It was good for credibility when people saw you could actually use a Bitcoin to buy a mattress at Overstock,” Mr. Tomaino, who left in 2016, said. Coinbase earned money on transaction fees.
But Bitcoin’s wildly volatile price and a slow computer network that managed it made transactions difficult, and people began to see the currency as an investment. In 2015, Ethereum, a cryptocurrency network with more tech abilities, was introduced, enticing enthusiasts to build companies and funds around the technology.
Soon after, a flood of “initial coin offerings,” where companies sold tokens on the promise of the technology they planned to build, created a new boom in cryptocurrency trading. But it quickly deflated after many projects were found to be frauds andU.S. regulators deemed the offerings to be securities, requiring that they comply with financial rules.
Tesla to buy $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin and the payments company Square to spend $170 million. In March, Morgan Stanley began offering its wealthy clients access to three Bitcoin funds, and Goldman announced that it would soon offer similar access. The mayor of Miami has proposed that the city accept tax payments in Bitcoin and invest city funds in the asset.
The stock trading app Robinhood announced that 9.5 million of its customers had traded cryptocurrency in the first three months of the year — up more than fivefold from the previous three months. Venture funding for crypto-related start-ups surged to its highest-ever level in the first quarter to $3 billion, according to PitchBook.
PayPal recently added a crypto trading and shopping feature for its customers in the United States. The company was motivated by consumer interest and advances in the technology that made transactions faster. It plans to quickly expand the offering to customers around the world.
“It feels like the time is right,” said Jose Fernandez da Ponte, head of PayPal’s blockchain, crypto and digital currencies group. “We think this has the potential to revolutionize payments and financial systems in general.”
Still, the so-called revolution faces some challenges. Coinbase has sometimes struggled to keep up with demand, with some customers who lost access to their accounts complaining that the company has been unresponsive. It has also received criticism for its treatment of female and Black employees.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has threatened harsher regulation of the currencies, including limiting their use.
And a big drop in prices could again send speculators fleeing. In its financial prospectus, Coinbase warned that its business results would fluctuate with the volatility of crypto assets, “many of which are unpredictable and in certain instances are outside of our control.”
The industry’s biggest issue — fulfilling the promise that the technology is more than just a place to park money — could take another decade to play out.
“There’s no doubt we’re in the latest boom, and I don’t know if that’s going to turn tomorrow or two years from now,” Mr. Tomaino said. “But the busts and booms are always higher than the last.”
BJ’s Wholesale Club, died unexpectedly on Thursday of “presumed natural causes,” according to a statement released Friday by the company. He was 49.
“We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the passing of Lee Delaney,” said Christopher J. Baldwin, the company’s executive chairman, said in a statement. “Lee was a brilliant and humble leader who cared deeply for his colleagues, his family and his community.”
Mr. Delaney joined BJ’s in 2016 as executive vice president and chief growth officer. He was promoted to president in 2019 and became chief executive last year. Before joining BJ’s, he was a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company from 1996 to 2016. Mr. Delaney earned a master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and attended the University of Massachusetts, where he pursued a double major in computer science and mathematics.
Mr. Delaney led the company through the unexpected changes in consumer demand spurred by the pandemic, with many customers stockpiling wholesale goods as they hunkered down at home. “2020 was a remarkable, transformative and challenging year that structurally changed our business for the better,” Mr. Delaney said in the company’s last quarterly earnings report.
The BJ’s board appointed Bob Eddy, the chief administrative and financial officer, to serve as the company’s interim chief executive. Mr. Eddy joined the company in 2007 and became the chief financial officer in 2011, adding the job of chief administrative officer in 2018.
“Bob partnered closely with Lee and has played an integral role in transforming and growing BJ’s Wholesale Club,” Mr. Baldwin said. He said that the company would announce decisions about its permanent executive leadership in a “reasonably short timeframe.”
BJ’s, based in Westborough, Mass., operates 221 clubs and 151 BJ’s Gas locations in 17 states.
Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.
Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.
“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.
Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a communications manager for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.
Revolut has been valued at $5.5 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable financial technology firms. It joins a number of companies that will allow more flexible working arrangements to continue after the pandemic ends. JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.
Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”
Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.
Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.
“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”
Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.
After weeks of wading into the debate over how to regulate SPACS, the popular blank-check deals that provide companies a back door to public markets, the Securities and Exchange Commission is sending its first shot across the bow.
John Coates, the acting director of the corporate finance division at the S.E.C., issued a lengthy statement on Thursday about how securities laws apply to blank-check firms, the DealBook newsletter reports.
“With the unprecedented surge has come unprecedented scrutiny,” Mr. Coates wrote of the recent boom in blank-check deals.
In particular, he is interested in a crucial (and controversial) difference between SPACs and traditional initial public offerings: blank-check firms are allowed to publish often-rosy financial forecasts when merging with an acquisition target, while companies going public in an I.P.O. are not. Regulators consider such forecasts too risky for firms as yet untested by the public markets.
Investors raise money for SPACs via an I.P.O. of a shell company, and those funds are used within two years to merge with an unspecified company, which then also becomes a publicly traded company. Because the deal is technically a merger, it’s given the same “safe harbor” legal protections for its financial forecasts as a typical M.& A. deal. And that’s why there are flying-taxi companies with little revenue going public via a SPAC while promising billions in sales far in the future.
The S.E.C. thinks allowing financial forecasts for these deals might be a problem. They can be “untested, speculative, misleading or even fraudulent,” Mr. Coates wrote. And he concludes his statement by suggesting a major rethink of how the “full panoply” of securities laws applies to SPACs, which could upend the blank-check business model.
If the S.E.C. does not treat SPAC deals as the I.P.Os they effectively are, he writes, “potentially problematic forward-looking information may be disseminated without appropriate safeguards.”
The letter serves as a warning, but perhaps not much else — yet. Unless the S.E.C. issues new rules (as it did for penny stocks) or Congress passes legislation, SPAC projections will continue. But this strongly worded statement could moderate or even mute them.
“The S.E.C. has now put them on notice,” Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant of the agency, said.
Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes
Either side needed 1,521 votes to win.
A total of 505 ballots were challenged; 76 were void.·Source: National Labor Relations Board
Amazon beat back the unionization drive at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., the counting of ballots in the closely watched effort showed on Friday.
A total of 738 workers voted “Yes” to unionize and 1,798 voted “No.” There were 76 ballots marked as void and 505 votes were challenged, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The union leading the drive to organize, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said most of the challenges were from Amazon.
About 50 percent of the 5,805 eligible voters at the warehouse cast ballots in the election. Either side needed to receive more than 50 percent of all cast ballots to prevail.
The ballots were counted in random order in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, Ala., and the process was broadcast via Zoom to more than 200 journalists, lawyers and other observers.
The voting was conducted by mail from early February until the end of last month. A handful of workers from the labor board called out the results of each vote — “Yes” for a union or “No” — for nearly four hours on Thursday.
Sophia June and Miles McKinley contributed to this report.
Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, according to Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.
The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items, Sheera Frenkel reports for The New York Times.
Last week, 45 state attorneys general banded together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of false and stolen vaccine cards.
Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said that the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts that advertised the items.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to keep track of Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of false vaccine cards started picking up, Mr. Khalifah said. Many people found the cards were easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.
Many people who bought the cards were opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted about getting the cards.
Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr. Khalifah said. Because some of the vaccines are two-shot regimens, people can enter a false date for a first inoculation on the card, which makes it appear as if they need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination sites have prioritized people due for their second shots.
In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday.
Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in city centers has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the highest in about a decade. That number could climb further if companies keep giving up office space because of hybrid or fully remote work, Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report for The New York Times.
So far, landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green have not suffered huge financial losses, having survived the past year by collecting rent from tenants locked into long leases — the average contract for office space runs about seven years.
But as leases come up for renewal, property owners could be left with scores of empty floors. At the same time, many new office buildings are under construction — 124 million square feet nationwide, or enough for roughly 700,000 workers. Those changes could drive down rents, which were touching new highs before the pandemic. And rents help determine assessments that are the basis for property tax bills.
Many big employers have already given notice to the owners of some prestigious buildings that they are leaving when their leases end. JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce, Target and more are giving up expensive office space and others are considering doing so.
The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.
President Biden proposed a vast expansion of federal spending on Friday, calling for a 16 percent increase in domestic programs as he tries to harness the government’s power to reverse what officials called a decade of underinvestment in the nation’s most pressing issues.
The proposed $1.52 trillion in spending on discretionary programs would significantly bolster education, health research and fighting climate change. It comes on top of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure.
Mr. Biden’s first spending request to Congress showcases his belief that expanding, not shrinking, the federal government is crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It would direct billions of dollars toward reducing inequities in housing and education, as well as making sure every government agency puts climate change at the front of its agenda.
It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security, which will all be included in a formal budget request the White House will release this spring.
Among its major new spending initiatives, the plan would dedicate an additional $20 billion to help schools that serve low-income children and provide more money to students who have experienced racial or economic barriers to higher education. It would create a multi-billion-dollar program for researching diseases like cancer and add $14 billion to fight and adapt to the damages of climate change.
It would also seek to lift the economies of Central American countries, where rampant poverty, corruption and devastating hurricanes have fueled migration toward the southwestern border and a variety of initiatives to address homelessness and housing affordability, including on tribal lands. And it asks for an increase of about 2 percent in spending on national defense.
The request represents a sharp break with the policies of President Donald J. Trump, whose budget proposals prioritized military spending and border security, while seeking to cut funding in areas like environmental protection.
All told, the proposal calls for a $118 billion increase in discretionary spending in the 2022 fiscal year, when compared with the base spending allocations this year. It seeks to capitalize on the expiration of a decade of caps on spending growth, which lawmakers agreed to in 2010 but frequently breached in subsequent years.
Administration officials would not specify on Friday whether that increase would result in higher federal deficits in their coming budget proposal, but promised its full budget would “address the overlapping challenges we face in a fiscally and economically responsible way.”
As part of that effort, the request seeks $1 billion in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax laws, including “increased oversight of high-income and corporate tax returns.” That is clearly aimed at raising tax receipts by cracking down on tax avoidance by companies and the wealthy.
Officials said the proposals did not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, which he introduced last week, or for a second plan he has yet to roll out, which will focus on what officials call “human infrastructure” like education and child care.
Congress, which is responsible for approving government spending, is under no requirement to adhere to White House requests. In recent years, lawmakers rejected many of the Trump administration’s efforts to gut domestic programs.
But Mr. Biden’s plan, while incomplete as a budget, could provide a blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate and are anxious to reassert their spending priorities after four years of a Republican White House.
Stocks on Wall Street climbed further into record territory on Friday: The S&P 500 index rose 0.8 percent, bringing its gain for the week to 2.7 percent.
Shares of Amazon rose 2.2 percent after the company prevailed against a unionization drive at a warehouse in Alabama.
The relatively steady gains in the stock market have sent the VIX index, a measure of volatility, to its lowest level since February 2020. The index was below 17 points on Friday. In mid-March, as the pandemic shut down parts of the global economy, the VIX had spiked above 80.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes jumped 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 1.66 percent. The yield on 10-year government bonds rose across Europe, too.
On Thursday, Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, reiterated his intention to keep supporting the economic recovery The rollout of vaccinations meant the United States economy could probably reopen soon, but the recovery was still “uneven and incomplete,” Mr. Powell said at the International Monetary Fund annual conference.
European stock indexes were mixed on Friday, though the Stoxx Europe 600 notched its sixth straight week of gains. The DAX index in Germany rose 0.2 percent after data showed an unexpected drop in industrial production. The FTSE 100 in London fell 0.4 percent.
Oil prices fell slightly with futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, 0.4 percent lower to $59.38 a barrel.
Just months after returning to the skies, Boeing’s troubled 737 Max jet is facing another setback. Boeing said Friday that it had notified 16 airlines and other customers of a potential electrical problem with the Max and recommended that they temporarily stop flying some planes. The company refused to say how many planes were affected, but four U.S. airlines said they would stop using nearly 70 Max jets. Boeing would not say how long the planes would be sidelined. The statement comes just months after companies resumed flying the jet, which had been grounded for nearly two years because of a pair of accidents that killed nearly 350 people.
Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, has reached a deal to raise $12.4 billion from the sale of a 49 percent stake in a pipeline-rights company.
The money will come from a consortium led by EIG Global Energy Partners, a Washington-based investor in pipelines and other energy infrastructure.
Under the arrangement announced on Friday, the investor group will buy 49 percent of a new company called Aramco Oil Pipelines, which will have the rights to 25 years of payments from Aramco for transporting oil through Saudi Arabia’s pipeline networks.
Aramco is under pressure from its main owner, the Saudi government, to generate cash to finance state operations as well as investments like new cities to diversify the economy away from oil.
The company has pledged to pay $75 billion in annual dividends, nearly all to the government, as well as other taxes.
Last year, the dividends came to well in excess of the company’s net income of $49 billion. Recently, Aramco was tapped by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, to lead a new domestic investment drive to build up the Saudi economy.
The pipeline sale “reinforces Aramco’s role as a catalyst for attracting significant foreign investment into the Kingdom,” Aramco said in a statement.
From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, the deal has the virtue of raising money up front without giving up control. Aramco will own a 51 percent majority share in the pipeline company and “retain full ownership and operational control” of the pipes the company said.
Aramco said Saudi Arabia would retain control over how much oil the company produces.
Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich neighbor, has struck similar oil and gas deals with outside investors.
“We just believe we’ve got more embedded growth, we’ve also got lower costs, and we believe we’ve got a great brand that positions us well in the low-fare space,” Mr. Biffle said.
The airline claims it is unique among low-cost airlines. While Spirit tends to serve more-crowded markets and Allegiant Air less-crowded ones, Frontier is more evenly distributed. The airline said it kept planes moving for more hours every day than most other major airlines and offers some flights only a few days a week, allowing it to serve smaller cities. In addition to Denver, Frontier has a big presence in Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas.
Frontier also claims to be more fuel-efficient than its peers, which it hopes will appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.
The airline earned $251 million in 2019 before losing nearly as much last year. It has about $1 billion in cash or cash equivalents and employs about 5,000 people.
Deregulation of the U.S. airline industry in 1978 paved the way for the growth of low-cost carriers, which tend to operate direct, point-to-point flights, often to secondary airports in major cities — an approach pioneered by Southwest. That strategy makes it easier to put planes and crews to efficient use, allowing the airlines to offer relatively low fares. The more traditional hub-and-spoke model used by American, United and Delta is more expensive to maintain but easier to grow once established.
The ultra-low-cost model is a more recent creation, one that Europe’s Ryanair is often credited with popularizing. Companies that use it are much more aggressive about keeping costs low and maximizing revenue. These airlines tend to use their planes an hour or two more each day than other airlines and tend to cram more and smaller seats into planes. They also charge for lots of services that even many conventional discount airlines include in the ticket price, such as seat selection or printed boarding passes.
But larger airlines are unlikely to easily cede ground to Frontier and its ilk. In March, for example, United, which operates the most flights at the Denver airport, announced plans to add dozens of nonstop flights between small Midwestern cities and a handful of tourist destinations. Even before the pandemic, United and other large airlines were copying ultra-low-cost companies by offering lower fares and charging for more services.
Announcing phony news on April Fools’ Day is one of corporate America’s favorite occasions for shameless publicity stunts. But when stonks, Dogecoin and $69 million JPG files are real things that warrant serious business coverage, the risk of jokes being taken seriously could hardly be higher. Some say that’s a good reason to skip them, not to mention the gravity that a pandemic has cast over things.
With that in mind, can you spot the prank among these recent announcements? (Scroll to the bottom for the answer.)
A: To celebrate National Burrito Day today, Chipotle is giving away $100,000 worth of Bitcoin.
B: Volkwagen’s U.S. operation is changing its name to “Voltswagen” to emphasize the company’s push into electric vehicles.
C: Robinhood is nixing a confetti animation when app users make a stock trade to reduce “distraction.”
complaints about burnout.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Business groups challenge President Biden’s proposed corporate tax increases. The Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce were among those that praised Mr. Biden’s plan to spend trillions on infrastructure. But they rejected his idea to pay for it by raising taxes, saying that doing so would endanger the economic recovery.
delay future shipments of its vaccine after a mix-up at a manufacturing plant. A top E.U. official said the bloc would allow “zero” shipments of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to Britain until the drugmaker fulfilled its commitments to Brussels. And France announced a third nationwide lockdown as its cases mount and inoculation efforts lag.
A tough day for initial public offerings. As Deliveroo had “the worst I.P.O. in London’s history,” other offerings also struggled. In the U.S., the SoftBank-backed real estate brokerage Compass priced at the bottom of a reduced range, while the low-cost airline Frontier sold at the low end of expectations. And in Canada, the space tech company MDA priced below its range.
Microsoft wins a huge contract to make augmented-reality headsets for the U.S. Army. The tech giant will receive up to $22 billion for equipping soldiers with sensors based on its HoloLens technology. It’s another big defense contract for Microsoft, which beat out Amazon to provide a $10 billion cloud computing system for the Pentagon.
Executives get a ‘sense of urgency’ in Georgia
A day after 72 Black executives signed a letter calling on companies to fight restrictive voting bills more forcefully, executives have begun speaking out more directly about laws that limit ballot access. But their statements came too late to affect a sweeping law passed last week in Georgia that added new requirements for absentee voting, limits on drop boxes and other restrictions that have an outsize impact on Black voters.
Today in Business
Delta and Coca-Cola reversed course. Ed Bastian, Delta’s C.E.O., told employees, “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.” James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s C.E.O., said he wanted to be “crystal clear” that “the Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”
The statements by the Atlanta-based companies angered local politicians, including Gov. Brian Kemp. In the past, corporate stands on controversial issues have led to political retribution: In 2018, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle stripped a tax break proposal from a bill that would benefit Delta after the airline ended a promotional discount for N.R.A. members. The State House passed a similar measure yesterday, but the Senate didn’t take it up before the chambers adjourned for the year.
Retaliation also goes the other way: In an interview with ESPN, President Biden said he would “strongly support” moving Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game from Atlanta, scheduled for July.
“It is regrettable that the sense of urgency came after the legislation was passed and signed into law,” said Darren Walker, the Ford Foundation president, who is a board member at Pepsi, Ralph Lauren and Square.
said the company stood “ready to continue to help in ensuring every Georgia voter has the ability to vote.” A spokesperson for Home Depot reiterated the company’s stance that it believes “all elections should be accessible, fair and secure.” A spokesperson for Inspire Brands, the owner of Dunkin’ Donuts and Arby’s, said that it “values inclusivity” and believes that “every American should have equal access to their right to vote.”
“The argument is they are recruited, they’re used up and then they’re cast aside without even a college degree. So they say, how can this be defended in the name of amateurism?”
— Justice Samuel Alito, assessing the “stark picture” painted by college athletes in an antitrust case against the N.C.A.A. that the Supreme Court heard yesterday.
The Red Sox sold a stake to private equity. Now what?
RedBird Capital Partners confirmed its deal to buy a stake in Red Sox parent Fenway Sports Group, a transaction that values the company at $7.35 billion. DealBook spoke with RedBird’s founder, Gerry Cardinale, and Fenway’s chair, Tom Werner, about what happens next.
Buy and build. RedBird plans to acquire more teams: Mr. Cardinale noted that his company doesn’t own teams in the N.B.A., N.H.L. or M.L.S. For its part, Fenway plans to tap new opportunities in ticketing, sponsorship and media. (As part of the RedBird deal, the N.B.A. star LeBron James bought a stake in Fenway.) In media, Fenway controls NESN, and RedBird owns a stake in the YES network. “You should expect that we’re going to continue to look for ways to innovate in that area,” said Mr. Cardinale, who helped create the YES network.
Deepening ties with online gambling is also on the table. “We do have an excellent relationship with DraftKings,” Mr. Werner said, “and we’ve already had some conversations with them about partnerships.”
The deal was a better fit for the private market instead of a SPAC, the executives said, after talks to take Fenway public via a blank-check firm fell through. “In the middle of Covid, with the mandate to re-underwrite the next wave of growth for Fenway Sports Group, we probably would be better off doing that privately and then give ourselves the option down the road,” Mr. Cardinale said of going public. He also called the current SPAC market “very frothy.”
announced a deal last week to go public by merging with a blank-check firm that valued it at roughly $8 billion.) A new documentary, “WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn,” tries to find lessons among the ups and downs. It streams on Hulu, starting tomorrow.
Jed Rothstein, the director, told DealBook that he believes what’s most compelling about WeWork isn’t what went wrong, but how it initially succeeded by turning strangers into a kind of tribe. “We still need that,” he said.
“The core idea of WeWork met a real need for community,” Mr. Rothstein said. “The voids people were trying to fill have only become more real.” After a year of social distancing, he likes the notion of curated communal spaces, which is what WeWork offered. Talking to early WeWorkers who bought the vision and later felt betrayed, he was surprised to find how much the company gave its devotees, notably a feeling that they were part of something bigger. That is worth acknowledging in a world where people will increasingly work remotely and for many different companies in their careers, Mr. Rothstein said.
WeWork’s co-founders, Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, both had communal childhood experiences. Mr. Rothstein said he thought they sincerely wanted to replicate the good in group life and inspired people who hadn’t seen that before. But Mr. Neumann also focused on what he didn’t like — sharing equally — and emphasized an “eat what you kill” mentality. Ultimately, his hunger turned the community dream into a nightmare for many.
After the director talked to people who followed the initial vision, his perspective changed. “People in the film experienced real growth and fulfillment mixed with their anger,” he said. “I realized the story is much more nuanced.”
THE SPEED READ
The media conglomerate Endeavor filed to go public for a second time, while raising $1.8 billion to buy full control of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It also added Elon Musk to its board. (WSJ, CNBC)
Vice Media is reportedly in talks to go public by merging with a SPAC. And the S.E.C. issued two notices for companies looking to go public via SPAC. (The Information, S.E.C.)
Junior bankers aren’t the only ones feeling burned out. Young lawyers are, too. (Business Insider)
Politics and policy
New York became the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana. (NYT)
Efforts by aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to hide New York State’s Covid-19 death toll coincided with his efforts to win a multimillion-dollar book deal. (NYT)
An accidental disclosure by the I.R.S. revealed a $1 billion tax dispute with Bristol Myers Squibb. (NYT)
Best of the rest
The ad agency Deutsch is doubling referral bonuses for Black job candidates. (Insider)
Amazon wants its employees mostly back in its offices, while the Carlyle Group and IBM favor hybrid working models. (Insider, Bloomberg)
Paul Simon is the latest musician to sell his entire back catalog: Sony Music Publishing will buy the collection, including classics like “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” for an undisclosed amount. (NYT)
Feeling burned-out? As more workers consider a return to the office, our colleague Sarah Lyall is writing about late-pandemic anxiety and exhaustion. Tell her about how you’re coping.
April Fools’ Day quiz answer: B. If you were fooled by Volkswagen’s prank, you’re in good company. Volkswagen reportedly told journalists that a draft of the announcement was not a stunt. It later called the stunt just “a bit of fun.”
Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant for the Securities and Exchange Commission, called the proposed fix “an excellent idea.” Because sponsors are the ones advertising “here’s what we’re going to do in this time period,” he said, “they should be locked into that.”
Mr. Palihapitiya was less enthusiastic.
“This isn’t a very good idea,” he told me. “Why would a sponsor agree to a five-year lockup when management wouldn’t, nor would other investors including PIPE investors?” (At the time of the deal, institutional investors are often invited to buy shares with favorable terms through what’s called a private investment in public equity, or PIPE.)
That is true. Management can typically sell shares after a short restricted period. But, as Mr. Turner pointed out, isn’t it the sponsor that is selling the deal to the public?
“What if management lied?” Mr. Palihapitiya argued. “Should the sponsor now be on the hook for bad behavior of management?” He said there were “too many corner cases where this fails.”
Mr. Palihapitiya said he had a better idea: “Make a sponsor invest at least as much as 10 percent of the deal size,” which is far more than most sponsors do. “The more they invest, the more they would need to scrutinize the projections,” he said. “This has always been the only meaningful way to align sponsors, management and investors.”
In some ways, the market is already forcing some sponsors to agree to longer lockups. Michael Klein, a former banker who has become a serial SPAC deal-maker, recently agreed to keep his stake in Lucid Motors, a high-flying electric vehicle maker, for at least 18 months as a way to seal the deal.
And with more and more SPACs losing their shine — most SPACs that went public in recent weeks are now trading below their offering price — investors may demand more from sponsors, perhaps even before regulators do.
But, in the end, investors shouldn’t have to ask sponsors to commit to their own deals.
LONDON — The initial public offering for Deliveroo, the Amazon-backed food delivery service, is set to be Britain’s biggest this year, giving the company an initial market value of 7.6 billion pounds, or $10.4 billion. But the listing, whose announcement was quickly heralded as a post-Brexit victory for London’s financial sector, has since been rocked by accusations of poor pay for Deliveroo riders.
Major investors, meanwhile, said they would sit out the offering.
Trading is set to begin on Wednesday, with shares priced at £3.90 a share, the bottom of the target range that originally was as high as £4.60. Earlier this week the company said that it wanted to price the shares “responsibly” and that it had received “very significant demand” from investors.
Deliveroo, which is based in London and was founded in 2013, is now in 12 countries and has over 100,000 riders, recognizable on the streets by their teal jackets and food bags. Last year, Amazon became its biggest shareholder with a 16 percent stake, which will drop to 11.5 percent after the I.P.O. The Deliveroo listing is the latest test for gig economy companies, whose business model is increasingly under threat in Europe as legal challenges mount.
Two weeks ago, Uber reclassified more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan, after a Supreme Court ruling. Analysts said the move could set a precedent for other companies and increase costs. In mainland Europe, where Deliveroo also operates, the European Commission is reviewing the legal status of gig economy workers.
a joint investigation by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was published based on invoices of hundreds of Deliveroo riders. It found that a third of the riders made less than £8.72 an hour, the national minimum wage for people over 25.
Deliveroo dismissed the report, calling the union a “fringe organization” that didn’t represent a significant number of Deliveroo riders. The company said that riders were paid for each delivery and earn “£13 per hour on average at our busiest times.” In Britain, Deliveroo has 50,000 riders.
“Our way of working is designed around what riders tell us matters to them most — flexibility,” Deliveroo said in response to the investigation.
DoorDash, the American food delivery company, went public in December to much fanfare. Its share price jumped 86 percent on the first day of trading, closing at $189.51. On Monday, DoorDash stock closed at $129.98.
Some of Britain’s largest asset managers, including Legal & General Investment Management, which manages more than £1.2 trillion in assets, have said they will sit out the I.P.O. amid concerns about shareholder voting rights and worker rights. Like many start-up companies, Deliveroo will have two classes of shares, which for as long as three years will give William Shu, a co-founder and the chief executive, 57 percent of the voting rights.
The offering has prompted a debate over whether companies with dual-class shares should be allowed to join the “premium listings” section of the London Stock Exchange, which would permit them to be part of indexes like the FTSE 100, forcing many index funds to buy them.
While the New York Stock Exchange and other major exchanges allow this kind of privilege to dual-class companies (consider Google or Facebook), the London exchange does not — although some would like it to.
Legal & General said it was urging Britain’s financial regulator to preserve the rule keeping dual-class companies out of the premium listings.
This would protect smaller investors “against potential poor management behavior, that could lead to value destruction and avoidable investor loss,” the asset manager said. This year has also brought “increasing signs of countries and governments reviewing the gig economy status.”
But a recent review of Britain’s listings rules that has been embraced by the government recommended that companies with dual-class shares be allowed into the premium listings, with some restrictions. The review is part of a series of efforts by the Treasury to find ways to enhance London’s appeal as a global financial center, after Britain’s divorce from the European Union sent some trading activity to cities like New York and Amsterdam. One of the Treasury’s goals is to make the London stock market more appealing to tech companies after a dearth of major listings in recent years.
Rishi Sunak, said that it was a “fantastic” decision and that Deliveroo was a “true British tech success story.”
“The U.K. is one of the best places in the world to start, grow and list a business — and we’re determined to build on this reputation now we’ve left the E.U.,” Mr. Sunak said.
“The infrastructure has gone to a whole other level,” said CJ MacDonald, founder of Step, a debit card provider aimed at teenagers. Introduced in September, Step quickly reached one million customers, partly from endorsements from social media influencers like Charli D’Amelio.
In December, Step raised $50 million in funding. The company was not looking for more money, Mr. MacDonald said. But investors started calling as soon as the app joined the top-downloaded finance app list shortly after it was released. The money came together in a matter of weeks, he said.
Investors are even clamoring to buy into broken deals. Plaid, which had agreed to sell itself to Visa for $5.6 billion last year, saw the deal unravel in January after facing antitrust scrutiny. Now the fast-growing company is in talks with investors to raise funding at a valuation near $15 billion, said two people with knowledge of the company who spoke on the condition they not be identified because the discussions are confidential. The Information earlier reported Plaid’s funding talks.
Sheel Mohnot, an investor at Better Tomorrow Ventures, said Plaid’s sale price to Visa was viewed as “so amazing” at the time. But now, with multiple fintech companies approaching $100 billion valuations, it looks low.
Some caution that the excitement has gotten far ahead of reality.
Robert Le, an analyst at PitchBook, pointed to the valuation of Affirm, which has a market capitalization of $20 billion, or roughly 40 times its annual revenue. That’s significantly higher than the value that investors typically assign to blue-chip financial services companies. American Express, for example, trades at just three times its annual revenue.
“I think it’s a little irrational,” Mr. Le said. “Over the long haul, some of these companies will have to come down.”
Some of the start-ups have already hit growing pains. Chime, a banking start-up, had a series of outages in 2019, leaving millions of customers with no access to their money for hours. Some Coinbase customers have said they were locked out of their accounts or experienced thefts of their money. And Robinhood faces nearly 50 lawsuits and multiple regulatory investigations after it halted trading for some stocks during a frenzy in “meme” stocks in January.
A former Citigroup analyst in New York who left investment banking last summer said that in normal times managers would often be busy traveling, or would leave the office at night, which allowed analysts periods to focus on their existing work without being assigned new tasks. Those breaks disappeared during the pandemic.
“They were always available and working late,” he said of his managers during the pandemic. “They knew we were stuck working late. We couldn’t do anything else. So there was no separation from work and home.”
The analyst, who worked at Citi for three years, said virtual work was particularly hard on the first-year employees. “They weren’t able to learn how to be a banker in the office. They learned it virtually, and it’s so much harder,” he said. Working virtually, he believes, has also made it more difficult for new analysts to support each other. “They just get the downside to banking,” he said. “They don’t get the upside, the relationships.”
JPMorgan and Citigroup declined to comment.
As the work has become more isolating, the amount of it has exploded. At this point in the year, according to Dealogic, the value of debt issues are running a third higher than the previous 10-year average, acquisitions are more than double, and initial public offerings are some 15 times higher, propelled by the surge in blank-check shell companies known as SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies.
“We recognize that our people are very busy, because business is strong and volumes are at historic levels,” Goldman Sachs said in a statement in response to the first-year analysts’ presentation. “A year into Covid, people are understandably quite stretched, and that’s why we are listening to their concerns and taking multiple steps to address them.”
On Sunday, Goldman’s chief executive, David Solomon, sent a memo to employees in which he promised to enforce the firm’s policy against working on Saturdays, to shift bankers to the busiest desks and to hire more entry-level employees. A day later, Citi’s C.E.O., Jane Fraser, introduced “Zoom-free Fridays” and said that most employees could work from home for two days per week when the firm reopens its offices.
Other banks decided to work in the medium they know best: Money. Credit Suisse on Wednesday said that it would give lower-ranking employees a $20,000 bonus to acknowledge their work during a period of “unprecedented deal volume.”
After a failed initial public offering and the near implosion of its business in 2019, WeWork said Friday that it had agreed to a deal that would take the beleaguered co-working company onto the stock market.
Instead of a traditional I.P.O., WeWork is merging with BowX Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company, in a type of deal that has become hugely popular in recent months.
BowX is backed by Bow Capital, an investment firm that counts the National Basketball Association star Shaquille O’Neal as an adviser.
WeWork leases office space and then effectively sublets it to its members, which include individuals, start-ups and large corporations. Its heady expansion was fueled by SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that became WeWork’s largest shareholder and rescued the company in 2019 just as it was about to run out of cash.
nearly $50 billion value that its investors placed on the company in 2019. WeWork will receive $1.3 billion in cash from the deal, including $800 million from Insight Partners, Starwood Capital Group, BlackRock and other investors.
The pandemic emptied WeWork’s offices, and it is not clear how much demand there will be for its office space in the future. Many people have become used to working from home and some large employers like Target and Dropbox have said they plan to give up big chunks of their office space because they expect fewer employees to come in daily. Other businesses like the retailer R.E.I. sold its headquarters all together. WeWork said Friday that memberships fell to 476,000 last year, from 619,000 in 2019.
Still, BowX’s chief executive, Vivek Ranadivé, told CNBC in an interview Friday that the pandemic would be a “tailwind” for the office-sharing company.
“Companies have now decided that flex space is the must-have,” said Mr. Ranadivé, a technology entrepreneur who owns the Sacramento Kings basketball team. “Maybe for their own headquarters they want to own that space. But for everything else, they want to hand it over to a WeWork.”
WeWork said it had lowered its costs since its failed public offering. The company is expecting revenue to surge in the coming years. It also offered a bullish forecast of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, an often flattering measurement of cash flows, but did not say what its profit might be. In the past, it has struggled to meet lofty projections. And it must try to draw tenants at a time when the office markets in New York, London, San Francisco and other big cities are awash with cheap sublet space.
Adam Neumann, a co-founder of WeWork, and SoftBank settled a legal dispute. WeWork had called off its I.P.O. in 2019 after investors balked at its losses and criticized its governance practices.
SoftBank has been eager to take WeWork public via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, a route to Wall Street that has become increasingly popular in recent months because it is faster than a conventional public offering. As of Wednesday, 295 SPACs had gone public in 2021, raising $93 billion and breaking last year’s record in a matter of months.
SoftBank poured billions of dollars into WeWork after Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s chief executive, bought into Mr. Neumann’s ambitious vision, which included building schools and serviced apartments in addition to leasing office space. In total, SoftBank has backed WeWork to the tune of nearly $16 billion, counting investments in the company, loans and payments to existing shareholders. After WeWork goes public, SoftBank will be able to sell its stake or keep it in the hope that it goes up in value.
Professional athletes can sell almost anything, from soda to sneakers to car insurance. But lately they’ve used their star power to sell SPACs, the blank-check acquisition vehicles that have raised more than $90 billion this year. Amid frenzied competition for merger deals, about a fifth of SPACs launched since last year have brought athletes on board in hopes of standing out when pitching to start-ups they hope to take public, Matthew Goldstein and DealBook’s Lauren Hirsch report.
Alex Rodriguez is one of the highest-profile athletes in the SPAC business, and he stands out because unlike many of his peers merely adding their names to someone else’s SPAC, he founded his own. Slam Corp, established by the former baseball slugger and the hedge fund manager Himanshu Gulati, has met with more than 70 potential targets since it raised $500 million in a February I.P.O. Mr. Rodriguez could sit on the board of whatever company it acquires. He and his business partner spoke with Lauren about their plans — below are exclusive excerpts from their conversation.
On running a public company …
Mr. Rodriguez formed the investment firm A-Rod Corp in 1996, but a listed company brings a new set of responsibilities. Is he ready?
“I think you do it collectively, you do it with the team,” said Mr. Rodriguez, pointing to his frequent communication with Mr. Gulati. And when it comes to understanding the fiduciary duties involved, he said that his long career at the Yankees brought him experience at “the ultimate public company,” where the shareholders, so to speak, were the outspoken fans of the storied franchise.
$1.7 billion bid for the Mets lost out to Steve Cohen’s $2.4 billion offer. “The silver lining for me is the trust that people put on us, and that doesn’t go to waste just because you didn’t win,” Mr. Rodriguez said, referring to himself and the pop star Jennifer Lopez, who joined him on the bid. “I think that’s something that brings tremendous credibility.”
On the S.E.C.’s warning about SPACs pitched by celebrities …
The U.S. securities regulator recently told investors not to buy shares of a SPAC simply because boldface names are attached to it. Many SPACs bring celebrities on as directors or advisers, Mr. Gulati said, and “they’re just there to kind of help them raise capital.” At Slam Corp, he said, “Alex is the C.E.O. — what he’s done at A-Rod Corp should not be understated.”
“I just want to stand up for the athlete community, because there’s so many smart young men and women. I would be lucky to have them as partners,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “We have a reach, and it’s not just domestic, it’s global,” he said, in reference to himself and Ms. Lopez.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
WeWork is going public via a SPAC. The office sharing company agreed to a deal with the blank-check company BowX Acquisition that values WeWork at $9 billion. That’s less than a quarter of its valuation in 2019. The venture firm behind the SPAC counts Shaquille O’Neal as an adviser.
struggling to free the container ship that has been wedged in the vital waterway since Tuesday, creating a huge, costly traffic jam that exposes the world economy’s reliance on just-in-time supply chains.
Lawmakers get few direct answers when grilling tech C.E.O.s. At the five-hour hearing on disinformation, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey acknowledged that his platform bore some responsibility for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, while Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai disagreed on whether regulatory changes were needed. Lawmakers were unimpressed: “There’s a lot of smugness among you,” said one.
Chinese consumers boycott several foreign brands. H&M, Nike, Adidas and others face retaliation from shoppers — egged on by the Communist Party — after they joined calls to avoid using cotton produced in the Xinjiang region, where Beijing has waged a repression campaign against ethnic minorities. Shares in Chinese apparel brands with ties to Xinjiang have rallied.
Banks can resume buybacks and raise dividends this summer. After the Fed’s next round of stress tests ends in June, most institutions will be allowed to resume share repurchases and increase dividends that were frozen during the pandemic, assuming they have sufficient capital.
A TV debut (on the public markets)
Over its nearly 20-year history, Vizio has become one of the biggest names in flat-screen TVs. But as it began life as a publicly listed company yesterday, its founder and C.E.O., William Wang, was eager to convince investors that its biggest business is in streaming on its smart TVs.
Lockdowns were good for Vizio. With people stuck at home and movie theaters closed, TVs have been in high demand: The company shipped 7.1 million units last year, up 20 percent from 2019. More important from Vizio’s perspective, it saw a 60 percent increase in accounts for SmartCast, its platform for connecting to streaming services like Apple+ and Netflix. “I think the biggest impact of the pandemic is forcing people to look at home entertainment again,” Mr. Wang told DealBook.
paid $2.2 million to settle charges that it collected and sold users’ data without their knowledge or consent. It doesn’t offer every streaming service — it’s missing HBO Max, for example — and faces competition from Roku, Apple TV and other smart TV makers.
The time was right for an I.P.O. Vizio tried to go public in 2015, but called it off after agreeing to sell itself to a Chinese rival (only for that deal to fall apart). Now that it makes money from both TV sales and streaming, Mr. Wang said, Vizio is more attractive to public-market investors. That said, the I.P.O. priced at the low end of its expected range, and fell 9 percent in the first day of trading. The C.E.O. put a positive spin on it: “We’re probably the leader in the space in consumer electronics. I believe sooner or later people will appreciate that.”
In the papers
Some of the academic research that caught our eye this week, summarized in one sentence:
The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Business Relationships,” which was published by McGraw-Hill Education this week.
Ms. McPherson spoke to DealBook about making connections during a pandemic that has physically estranged so many. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
DealBook: Has your view of technology changed?
Ms. McPherson: The past year helped us all understand how much we miss human connection when we don’t have it. Some days I‘ve showed up at a team meeting and a part of me just felt like crying. So I’ve learned to expose more of that vulnerability and how to be more empathetic and compassionate online, which freed up my team, too. Now, I think we can be better stewards of technology and make those deep connections if we’re intentional about it.
Britain’s competition watchdog is worried about the “supply of GIFs” after Facebook’s acquisition of the animated-image site Giphy. (Reuters)
Are the bond vigilantes back? (NYT)
Politics and policy
The S.E.C. has opened an inquiry into the SPAC craze, asking underwriters about their risk-management processes. (Reuters)
Georgia Republicans passed sweeping voting restrictions, drawing the ire of President Biden.(NYT)
The Supreme Court made it easier for consumers to sue companies, ruling that it doesn’t matter if a manufacturer has a substantial presence in the state where an injury happened. (NYT)
The crypto token linked to a Times column sold at auction for $560,000, with the proceeds going to charity. (NYT)
A labor board said Tesla illegally fired a worker involved in union organizing and ordered Elon Musk to delete a threatening tweet. (NYT)
Best of the rest
“Using Shame, Lending Apps in India Squeeze Billions Out of the Desperate” (NYT)
The actress Jessica Walter, who played Lucille Bluth, the martini-swilling matriarch of a dysfunctional business family on “Arrested Development,” died at 80 in Manhattan. (NYT)
Will the popularity of five-star meal kits from fine-dining establishments persist after the pandemic? (Bloomberg Opinion)
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