I spent last week biking in Italy, blissfully ignoring news from Travis’ troubles to Bey’s babies. But one story grabbed my attention as carrying the possibility for profound change in the business world: Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods.
Readers of this newsletter know that Jeff Bezos has topped the list of CEOs most admired by Fortune 500 colleagues for two years running. That’s because, like Steve Jobs before him, he’s become a serial disrupter of industries—first books, then e-commerce, then computer services. Those of us struggling to survive disruption in the media business have watched with admiration as he has used his personal investment to transform The Washington Post, investing heavily in its journalism and massively increasing its digital subscription base. Now he’s making a big bet, not just on groceries, but on the entire $800 billion packaged food business. It’s no surprise that the day after the bid, battered stocks included not only Kroger, Target, and Walmart, but also General Mills, Kellogg’s, and 3-G owned Kraft Heinz.
I wrote earlier this year about how the Kraft Heinz effort to buy Unilever represented a clash between two models of capitalism—the first focused on short-term cost-cutting, the second on social benefits. Bezos represents a third model, ignoring short-term profit at the expense of long-term innovation and dominance. It’s no surprise many smart investors want to go along for that ride. We’ll see if he delivers once again.
We have some news of our own at Fortune today. We’ teamed up with Barclays to launch a new family of stock indices based on the Fortune 500. Why? Because all the evidence we’ve seen suggests: 1) size matters in business, perhaps today more than ever; and 2) success tends to breed success. If you held an equal-weighted portfolio of Fortune 500 stocks since 1980, rebalancing with each new year’s list, you would have earned twice the return of an investment in broader market indices.
News below. Also, take time today to read Brian Patrick Eha’s fascinating story about the first Bitcoin felon, and his effort at a comeback. And thanks to Geoff for skillfully minding the top in my absence.
• Loeb Stalks “Staid” Nestle
Third Point, the hedge fund of activist investor Daniel Loeb, announced a stake of over 1% in Nestle, attacking its “staid” culture and “tendency to incrementalism” gains. Loeb wants the Swiss company to sell its 23% in cosmetics group L’Oreal and improve its margins. Nestle’s new CEO Mark Schneider thoughts appear, to a degree, already running in that direction. One of his first moves was to abandon Nestle’s long-standing sales target, clearing the decks for other priorities. Nestle’s shares rose 4% to a new all-time high. L’Oreal’s also rose by a similar amount.
• One Spanish Step Forward, Two Italian Steps Back
The European bank resolution tango is a tricky dance to learn: it turns out there are no rules after all. Italy’s government at the weekend pledged up to 17 billion euros ($19 billion) to bail out two failing regional banks. The deal transfers the banks’ good assets to Intesa SanPaolo, which has the strongest balance sheet in the sector. The move shreds the EU’s principle of replacing taxpayer-funded bailouts with ‘bail-ins’ paid for by shareholders and creditors, which had been applied smoothly in the resolution of Spain’s Banco Popular only weeks earlier. Once again, the Italian government shied away from harming retail bondholders (a.k.a. middle-class voters), while the EU shied away from touching senior bank debt. Intesa’s shares rose 4% on relief as it avoided being saddled with the bad assets.
• Facebook Goes for Scripted Content
Facebook is reportedly getting into the scripted content business, with a view to launching original programming as soon as late summer. The Wall Street Journal’s sources said it’s indicated it will commit to production budgets as high as $3 million per episode, in line with high-end cable TV programming. It’s also reportedly looking for primarily unscripted short-form content. Its 2 billion-strong user base gives it a uniquely strong position in negotiations with content providers. It’s also promising to share more viewership data with them than rivals Netflix and Amazon. It may, however, face a certain credibility problem after repeating feeding advertisers inaccurate data.
• CBO Verdict May Sway GOP Health Rebels
The Congressional Budget Office is due to pronounce Monday on the Senate’s draft bill on health care reform. Its tone and conclusions will likely sway a number of Senators who like the government and business savings it promises, but who are afraid of voter backlash due to cuts in coverage, notably in Medicaid. Five GOP Senators have indicated they won’t support the bill in its present form, which would stop it passing if a vote planned for this week goes ahead. President Trump again indicated he’s to the left of his party’s center of gravity on the issue, warning on Fox & Friends at the weekend that he wants “to see a bill with heart.”
Around the Water Cooler
• Takata Deflated
Japan’s Takata, the firm at the center of the auto industry’s biggest ever product recall, filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. and Japan, and said it would be bought for $1.6 billion by Key Safety Systems, which is based in Michigan but owned by China’s Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp. KSS intends to keep “substantially all” of Takata’s operations going. But it’s the biggest-ever bankruptcy of a Japanese manufacturer, with liabilities running into tens of billions of dollars after almost a decade of recalls and lawsuits. Its airbags have been linked to at least 17 deaths around the world.
• A Distant Rumbling Sound From China’s Debt Market
China’s debt markets are sending some uncomfortable signals. Last weeks, they were roiled by news that the banking regulator CBRC was concerned about excess leverage at four of the biggest and most “systemically-relevant” Chinese conglomerates. Overnight, they’ve fallen again after developer Evergrande turned a $3.8 billion bond refinancing into a $6.6 billion deal that raised billions in new capital—paying 8.75% for a Single-B credit. The company’s over-eagerness to fulfill demand was taken as a sign that its needs are bigger than it was letting on. The bonds fell 5% in the secondary market.
FT, metered access
• Shrkeli Takes the Stand
‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli stands trial in a Brooklyn court today, charged with fraud allegedly committed while running two hedge funds between 2009 and 2011. The charges, which have no connection to the controversial but legal gouging on AIDS drug Daraprim, relate to how Shkreli covered up heavy, but temporary, losses at the funds he was managing. He has pleaded not guilty.
• Sirius’ Arrival Heralds Westergren Exit from Pandora
Music streaming service Pandora Media’s founder and chief executive, Tim Westergren, plans to step down, according to Recode. The company doesn’t yet have a successor for Westergren, who only returned to the helm last year after a decade-long absence. Earlier this month, Sirius XM agreed to invest $480 million in Pandora, aiming to help it keep rivals Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play at bay.
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith Geoffrey.email@example.com;