By John Kell and Alan Murray
May 12, 2015

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on trade promotion authority today. It’s hard to overstate what’s at stake. The outcome will be a critical test of President Obama’s ability to influence his own party, the business community’s ability to sway events in Washington, and most importantly, America’s ability to play a leadership role in world affairs. If the U.S. can’t deliver on a trade deal it has spent nearly a decade negotiating with Pacific rim nations, its hope of being an effective counterweight to China in Asian affairs will be greatly diminished.


Right now, prospects are cloudy. Democratic leader Harry Reid seems determined to end his career with a destructive blocking action in the Senate, while House Democrats remain far short of the 30-plus votes they need to give the President a win. Recent history would suggest you can’t go wrong betting against success. But at least one well-connected business leader assures us things are better than they seem. We hope he’s right.


More stories below, including another potential addition to our “unicorn” list (startups with billion dollar valuations.) The mythical creatures are becoming more common than milk cows.

Alan Murray

Top News

• Mega merger in aisle 7?

Netherlands-based Royal Ahold NV and Brussels-based Delhaize Group confirmed they are in merger talks to potentially create the fifth-biggest U.S. supermarket retailer amid increased competition from Wal-Mart Stores. The talks are preliminary, though if a deal happened, it would combine the European owners of the Stop & Shop and Food Lion chains. The possible deal is viewed as a defensive move, according to some observers. 

• Citigroup in the clear on Libor

The Justice Department has dropped its probe of Citigroup related to Libor rigging, and the U.S. government has no plans to bring criminal charges against the company in the matter, according to the bank. Citi had been one of six major banks probed for manipulating the lending rate, which is tied to trillions of dollars of loans.

Blue Apron: the next unicorn?

Blue Apron, a New York-based startup that ships boxes of remeasured ingredients to home cooks, is in talks to raise more money from investors at a valuation of around $2 billion. That is far more lofty than the $500 million valuation the company earned from investors when it raised $50 million in April 2014. If the deal were to occur, Blue Apron would be among the most highly valued private New York startups, a group that includes shared office space provider WeWork Cos and eyeglass maker Warby Parker. 
WSJ (subscription required)

Judge says Nomura misled on bonds

A U.S. judge has ruled that Nomura Holdings, a Japan-based financial firm, made false statements in selling mortgage-backed securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ahead of the 2008 financial crisis. The ruling could allow the U.S. regulator to recover around $450 million. Normura is planning an appeal  in the case, which is the first lawsuit that reached trial out of 18 the regulator filed in 2011 over some $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities that various banks sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Around the Water Cooler

Picasso painting sets auction record

A Picasso oil painting from 1955 smashed the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it soared to $179.4 million at Christie’s. The painting, “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’),” was last auctioned in 1997 for $31.9 million. Picasso toppled a record earned by Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” which sold for $142.4 million at Christie’s in November 2013. “It will be fascinating to see how long it holds,” a Christie’s executive said about the record price. 

Self-driving cars dinged by fender benders

Google revealed that its self-driving cars have been involved in 11 minor traffic accidents since it began experimenting with the technology. The accidents were described as “minor” — and happened over 1.7 million miles of testing, including nearly 1 million miles in self-driving mode. Five other companies with testing permits told the AP they had no accidents. In all, 48 cars are licensed to test on California state roads. 
Associated Press

Rackspace’s cloudy future

Rackspace, a pioneer in the cloud computing space, could end up focusing more on supporting customers running on Amazon or Google clouds. During a conference call, CEO Taylor Rhodes told analysts “Supporting other clouds makes sense and is consistent with our heritage.” It is thus conceivable that Rackspace could end up supporting customers running on Amazon or Google clouds. In fact, it is already doing that sort of working following a recent deal to support customers using Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365. 

• New York looks to stem nail salon abuse

After a New York Times expose published last week revealed that manicurists in New York City are often subjected to wage theft and health hazards, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has outlined a series of steps that the state will take to end the industry’s abuse of workers. One wonky solution: every nail salon must secure either a bond or expanded insurance policy to cover claims for unpaid wages as part of its insurance. 

Fortune's 5 things to know today

Picasso record and Boeing talks to investors — 5 things to know today. Today’s story can be found here.


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