Oracle’s announcement that it is purchasing energy management firm Opower for $532 million is a sign that the era of “big data” is entering its prime. Opower – which was on Fortune’s 2015 Change the World list – works with power companies to scoop up meter readings from 60 million utility customers and turn them into insights. It was Opower, for instance, that discovered you are more likely to turn down your air conditioning if told you are using more energy than your neighbors than you would be if told how much money you would save. Who knew?
In today’s digital world, almost everything we do kicks off data – call it data exhaust – but most goes to waste. A report last year from McKinsey estimated only about one percent of data generated is ever turned into useful information. Turning data into insights, as Opower does, is one of the great business opportunities of the coming decades, and many believe it will spawn a new era of business enlightenment. In a data-informed future, we’ll look back at today’s business decision making as being as crude as 19th century medicine.
Opower Founder Alex Laskey will be one of the speakers at Fortune’s Brainstorm E conference on May 16-17 in San Diego. If you are interested in attending, apply here.
Also yesterday, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt gave his view of the six most important tech trends that will shape the future, speaking at the Milken Institute Conference in Los Angeles. You can find them here. Meat eaters (and packers) beware.
More news below.
• Murder on Main Street
Two more bleak stories from the retail sector to report on, neither of them unexpected: New York-based grocery store Fairway Group, which has lost money every quarter since going public three years ago, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and teen retailer Aéropostale is set to do likewise, with the closure of 100 of its stores, according to The Wall Street Journal. Unlike its higher end peers, American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch, Aéropostale has not been able to return to growth in the last years as young consumers turn away from branded clothing. The retailer has also been hurt by the growth of fast-fashion retailers like Forever 21, Uniqlo, and H&M, the latest evidence of which was a 6.7% drop in like-for-like sales in the holiday quarter. The fashion business isn’t any easier in Europe either: Hugo Boss, whose last CEO fell on his sword after a profit warning in February, said Tuesday it will close all its unprofitable stores with the aim of saving $57 million in annual rent payments after reporting its biggest decline in quarterly profit in six years. WSJ, subscription required, Bloomberg
• Uber Drivers Take the Litigation Route Again
The consequences of Uber’s recent $100 million settlement over driver compensation continue to play out. The ride-hailing company has been hit with two more lawsuits from drivers in Florida and Illinois, which claim that it has violated the the Fair Labor Standards Act and which seek to recover unpaid overtime wages and other expenses, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Illinois lawsuit also seeks to recover tips it says Uber’s misleading messages to riders has cost drivers. These are the first lawsuits against the company to emerge following the company’s landmark settlement. That may seem a big price tag, but it’s also a small price for Uber to pay to retain its drivers’ status as contractors (for now), which is fundamental to the company’s business model. The settlement proposal only covered drivers in California and Massachusetts–the lawsuits’ home states–so it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be the end of Uber’s legal battles over this issue. For a company that has raised some $8 billion in financing, the issue shouldn’t be life-threatening, but it will be—to say the least– interesting to see how Uber’s renowned legal team fares against the massed ranks of class-action lawyers across the country who will be pressing for a piece of it over the next few months. Fortune
• Death of a Deal
Halliburton and Baker Hughes have bowed to the inevitable and called off their $35 billion under pressure from antitrust regulators. Halliburton will have to pay Baker Hughes a $3.5 billion break fee to compensate it for not completing the cash-and-stock deal, which was conceived as an emergency response to the collapse in oil prices in late 2014. Baker Hughes said last night it will use the money to buy back $1.5 billion in stock and $1 billion in debt as it prepares to chart a course as an independent company again. It will also have some restructuring costs to pay, as it’s looking to cut $500 million in recurring costs by the end of the year. Fortune
• ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ Unmasked
The creator of bitcoin, who has long been known by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto”, has apparently come out of the shadows. His name is Craig Wright. Or so he says. Wright, an Australian entrepreneur and prominent bitcoin backer, had previously been identified by Wired and Gizmodo, but those stories were met with some skepticism, as previous attempts at unmasking Nakamoto had not gone so well. Now Wright has gone to the BBC, the Economist and GQ with proof that he says ties him to the identity of Nakamoto: He used the cryptographic key that was associated with the first bitcoin transaction. Wright told the BBC that he was stepping into the light to stop people hounding him and people he cares about. The Wired and Gizmodo stories in December were swiftly followed by a raid by the Australian tax authorities, though they claimed it had nothing to do with bitcoin. Wright says he is cooperating with them on working out how much he needs to pay. If Wright has the million bitcoins that Nakamoto is believed to have amassed, he’s sitting on around $457 million. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• Corporate Cash Machines
Guess which large-cap company has delivered the biggest total shareholder returns over the past three years. Step forward, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, with an average TSR of 75.3%, according to some new numbers crunched by consultants BCG that are out today. If you guessed another pharma company, you were in the right ballpark: Allergan, Gilead Sciences and Biogen were all in the top six, testimony to what happens if you combine (in various measures) innovation in a sector crucially important to the consumer, high margins generated by high barriers to entry and price-insensitive buyers, and an M&A binge fuelled by free money and the exploitation of gaping tax loopholes. Encouragingly, six of BCG’s top 10 are U.S. companies, with Netflix and payments giants Visa and Mastercard also conspicuous. By contrast, Apple, which had been prominent on the list for most of the last decade, is conspicuous by its absence. Fortune
• Cruz’s Last Stand?
It’s Indiana primary day, with Donald Trump expected to add to his collection of delegates at the GOP convention with a comfortable victory over Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Indiana won’t clinch the nomination for Trump–he still needs over 240 delegates to do that, and Indiana only sends 57–but the state is one of the last opportunities to stop Trump bandwagon and the signs are they aren’t coming close. In the Democratic camp, Hillary Clinton is on the cusp of victory, having out-polled and even out-raised Bernie Sanders through April. WSJ, subscription required
• Banks Under Pressure
It isn’t only Wall Street that felt the pain in the first three months of the year. Europe’s biggest banks are reporting big drops in revenue and profit in the first quarter, too. HSBC, BNP, UBS and Commerzbank all reported anemic earnings for the first quarter Tuesday, raising further questions about how well the sector can cope with the seemingly infinite prospect of ultra-low and even negative interest rates. Market volatility caught UBS and Commerzbank particularly badly. Financial Times, subscription required
• Leicester City’s Dream Comes True
In the end, they won it by default. Chelsea’s 2-2 tie against Tottenham Hotspur last night means that Leicester City are the first new English soccer champions in nearly 40 years. At the start of the season, the bookmakers considered it more likely that Elvis would be found alive, and that Donald Trump would win the Nobel Peace Prize. Even the sky in England has updated its profile picture to match the team’s blue shirts this morning. As the club’s Italian head coach wrote in a recent magazine article, “it is a victory for everyone who has ever been told that they weren’t good enough.” Almost all of the club’s players, including the two named Most Valuable Player by their fellow professionals and by the country’s sports press, respectively, had been sold or released by their first clubs.