• Iran is Back…With the French and Chinese
Iran is set to sign a preliminary $6 billion deal with French oil and gas group Total next week for the development of an offshore natural gas field. China’s CNPC will also be a signatory to an agreement that will finally develop South Pars, one of the world’s biggest known gas fields, after years in which development was stopped by U.S. sanctions. It’s the first major deal that Iran has signed with foreign oil and gas companies since sanctions were lifted, and a stark reminder of how far down the line U.S. companies will be for any business in a country that is host to some of the best conventional energy resources in the world.
• Peace At Southwest Airlines
Pilots at Southwest Airlines voted to ratify a new contract that hikes wages and alters retirement benefits, following more than four years of talks. The approval marks a step toward better labor relations at the budget airline after recent picketing by workers and calls by union leaders for two executives to resign. Flight attendants, meanwhile, had ratified a new contract a week ago. The airline’s shares were up 3% at the market’s close, despite the company’s forecast that the deals will raise unit costs by around 3.5%–an increase it is already passing on to customers in the form of higher fares. On the plus side, it frees up management time for overhauling its creaky IT system.
• News Corp Rounds off a Bad Quarter for Print
News Corp rounded off a miserable earnings season for old media, reporting a 2.4% drop in quarterly revenue and a net loss of $15 million. The results were rescued only by rapid growth at its online real estate advertizing business. Ad revenue at the group’s biggest title, The Wall Street Journal, fell 21% on the year despite a 6% increase in circulation. Ad revenue also fell 28% at its stable of U.K. newspapers, with the post-referendum decline in sterling largely to blame. The group comparison was also made less favorable by the fact that book division HarperCollins had published Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman a year earlier. Last week, the New York Times had reported a 19% drop in ad revenue, while Gannett’s print ad revenue fell 15% and Time Inc.’s fell 13%.
• Samsung Raided
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. South Korean prosecutors raided Samsung Electronics on Tuesday as part of a probe over a political scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her friend, Choi Soon-sil, who is alleged to have exerted improper influence in state affairs. Choi has been charged abuse of power and fraud while a former aide has been charged with abuse of power and extortion after they helped raise $68 million from dozens of the country’s biggest conglomerates on behalf of two foundations. Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Samsung provided $3.1 million to a company co-owned by Choi and her daughter, a former member of the national equestrian team. Thank goodness it couldn’t happen here.
Around the Water Cooler
• Even Priceline’s Foul-Ups Can’t Stop It
Shares in online travel agent Priceline–the company behind Booking.com and Kayak–surged more than 5% after hours to a new all-time high, after it said hotel bookings rose 29% in the third quarter. Car rental bookings also rose 12.5%. The fly in the ointment was a $941 million write-down of restaurant-booking service OpenTable, more than one-third of the $2.6 billion it paid for it in 2014. Two years on, OpenTable still only accounts for 2% of total revenue, a figure that illustrates nicely how over-optimism about the disruption of traditional services can cost serious money.
• My Trusty Friend from American Outdoor Brands…
Dirty Harry is grinding his dentures in anger at his retirement home. Gunmaker Smith & Wesson said it wants to change its name to “American Outdoor Brands Corporation”, and has invited its shareholders to bless its idea at a meeting Dec. 13. CEO James Debney said the new name “will better reflect our family of brands, our broad range of product offerings, and our plan to continue building upon our portfolio of strong American brands.” He added that the company intended to add to that list with acquisitions of “brands and products that best meet the needs and lifestyle of our target consumers.” None of which can stop the move from being, inevitably, a comment on the value of the company’s existing brand.
• Brexit Gets Real
The U.K.’s Institute for Fiscal Studies is forecasting today that Brexit will cause the country a budget shortfall of 25 billion pounds ($31 billion) over the next four years. Nobody in Britain cares because this is how you make Brexit real: Mondelez is cutting the size of its iconic Toblerone Swiss chocolate bars to 150 grams from 170g to maintain profit margins. Where there was once a chocolate triangle, now there is just air. To reinforce the feeling of loss and separation, Main Street giant Marks & Spencer is closing most of its stores in Europe, which means it, will disappear from Paris’s Avenue des Champs Elysées. The two latter stories were trending above the U.S. election on the BBC website.
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith Geoffrey.email@example.com;