CEO Daily: Monday, April 18
Stock markets took a tumble around the world this morning, after oil producers meeting in Doha failed to reach an agreement to stabilize oil prices. The pact fell through because Iran refused to participate, which of course meant that Saudi Arabia, its main rival for geopolitical influence in the region, also pulled out. Oil prices dropped 4%; markets in Asia fell around 1%; European markets dropped about a half percent.
The one exception to the market downdraft is in Brazil, where investors are cheering the fact that Congress has voted to begin impeachment proceedings against leftist leader Dilma Rousseff .
Also this morning, two earth-shaking events. The magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Ecuador has claimed the lives of more than 270 people. President Rafael Correa cut short his trip to Italy, where he was attending the same Vatican economic confab as Bernie Sanders, to deal with the crisis.
And in the Kumamoto region of Japan, a manufacturing hub, some 250,000 people have been told to leave their homes amid fears of further earthquakes, after Saturday’s magnitude 7.3 quake which killed 42. Toyota, Sony and Honda are all suspending production because of critical disruption in their supply chains.
By the way, I guessed wrong about Bernie Sanders in Friday’s CEO Daily. He did meet Pope Francis, for five minutes on Saturday morning in the Vatican guest house where the Pope lives and Sanders was staying, and where no photos are allowed. The Pope later said that “if anyone thinks greeting someone is getting involved in politics, I recommend that he look for a psychiatrist.”
• E.U. Edges Closer to Probe of Android
The E.U. is on the verge of announcing an antitrust probe into Google’s parent Alphabet, over allegations that it restricts competition by forcing phone makers and network operators to give preferential treatment to its own apps on the Android operating system. This would add a new dimension to its already-running investigation into an allegedly anti-competitive configuration of Google Shopping. Big companies should not try to protect themselves by holding back innovation, Vestager told a conference Monday. “That’s why we’re looking closely at Google’s contracts with phone makers and operators which use the Android operating system.” Fortune
• Amazon Targets Netflix
Amazon has upped the stakes in its battle with Netflix. The company said Sunday it's going to offer two new price plans for its Prime streaming service, including a monthly option that will cost only $8.99 for video-only, and a $10.99 option offering the full Prime service, including music streaming and free two-day shipping for Amazon orders. That's a big departure from the $99 up-front annual subscription that Amazon has demanded for Prime so far. Amazon's hoping it will make it easier to attract new customers for Prime. NYT
• AstraZeneca Eyes a Bid for Medivation
Here’s a variation on a familiar theme: a U.S. drug company could end up with a new owner based in a lower-tax jurisdiction. However, this deal looks like an old-school, bona fide piece of M&A. According to The Sunday Times, AstraZeneca (market cap.: $75 billion) is very close to making a bid for San Francisco-based Medivation ($8 billion), a specialist in cancer treatments with a promising line in research into immuno-oncology drugs. Medivation has already rebuffed an offer from France’s Sanofi, according to Bloomberg. Whether there’s a real bidding war afoot, or whether it exists only in the minds of M&A bankers, only time will tell. Fortune
• DoJ Casts its FIFA Net Wider
The Department of Justice is widening its probe into corruption at FIFA to focus more on its counterparties, specifically its broadcasting partners and sponsors, The Wall Street Journal reports. Affiliates of Fox and AT&T's DirecTV unit are among those being looked at, it said. Those companies have already launched internal investigations into the possibility of wrongdoing, according to the WSJ, as have a number of banks including JPMorgan Chase and Citibank. The DoJ's investigation recently got another trove of source material with the disclosure of the 'Panama Papers', which included, among other things, a deal approved by FIFA's new (and would-be cleaner) president Gianni Infantino with two sports marketing executives whom the DoJ has already accused of corruption. WSJ, subscription required
Around the Water Cooler
• D-Day for Yahoo
You have until close of business today to get your bids in for Yahoo's legacy businesses. As you might have suspected, not all of those mooted as potential buyers have actually gone ahead and put in a firm bid yet. The Wall Street Journal reports 'people familiar with the matter' as saying only a handful of the 40 or so interested parties are moving ahead, including the widely-tipped favorite, Verizon. Those who said 'thanks, but no thanks' include Google's parent company Alphabet, Comcast, AT&T and--according to the WSJ--Time Inc., the publisher of Fortune (we have no inside information on this). It isn't clear what has happened to the reported interest from U.K.-based Daily Mail & General Trust.
• Well, This Was Bound to Happen
A British Airways plane hit what is thought to have been a privately-operated drone on its approach to London's Heathrow Airport at the weekend. There have already been dozens of near-misses in similar cases, so it was only a matter of time before one actually made contact. The Airbus landed safely, as the drone missed the pilots' windshield and also avoided being sucked into the jet's engines. It's unlikely that the operator will be caught, because the U.K.--unlike the U.S.--doesn't require all drones to be registered by their owners. Fortune
• The Man Cub Rules
"The Jungle Book" dominated the weekend box office, grossing a massive $103.6 million, and extending the Walt Disney Company's success in making live action versions of its classic animated features. It's the second biggest April opening in history, behind only "Furious 7's" $147.2 million launch. Critics loved director John Favreau's $175 million makeover, handing it a 95% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Word-of-mouth for the film also looks strong. It looks like another big success for Disney's strategy of revisiting familiar tales, and there are more such projects in the pipeline: "Beauty and the Beast", with Emma Watson, hits theaters on March 17, 2017, and new versions of "Cruella De Ville" and "Peter Pan" are in the works. Fortune
• Brexiters vs The Establishment
The campaign for Britain's referendum on leaving the European Union looks more and more like a riff on the global them of disaffected voters lining up against their establishments. The "Leave" campaign (tied with the "Remain" vote at 39%, according to The Economist) is proving deaf to pleading from the U.K. government, President Barack Obama, the International Monetary Fund, the Confederation of British Industry and the City of London (including the external offices of Wall Street's finest), all of whom argue that 'Brexit' would damage the outlook for growth and investment in Britain. Their stubbornness may have something to do with the quality of arguments being advanced. U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne has today claimed that Brexit would cost every taxpayer £4,300 (around $7,000), but the Treasury's own record on forecasting is notoriously poor, and its attempt to put a precise figure on something with as many unknowns (both known and unknown) is causing amusement and amazement in roughly equal measure. The Financial Times