China Talks, Tencent Tumble, Turkey and Qatar: CEO Daily for August 16, 2018
Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.
Very unsurprisingly, the Securities and Exchange Commission has formalized its investigation into Elon Musk’s tweet about having “funding secured” to take Tesla private. The SEC has subpoenaed Tesla in what could end up being a market manipulation case.
Alan provided an update on the situation Monday, but a lot has happened since then, so let’s sum up what we now know.
The crucial bit of Musk’s surprise tweet was his assertion that funding was secured for the take-private plan. He then said the cash was coming from the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, because the fund’s managing director “strongly expressed his support” for the deal. The New York Times subsequently reported that the Saudis have prepared no term sheet, nor have they even hired financial advisors to scrutinize the deal.
According to the Times, Musk also did not clear his tweet with Tesla’s board before emitting it. This may explain why Tesla did not give the markets a head-up that it was about to announce something major. The board, which is stacked with friendly figures, has now formed a special committee to evaluate Musk’s proposal… which, as of Tuesday, it hadn’t received yet.
Market manipulation, Musk-ish recklessness or simply sailing close to the wind? That’s for the SEC to figure out, and the question now is how quickly it does so.
Bear in mind that there’s a lot more that could drag out this whole take-private process. Shareholders (some of whom are suing over the tweet) will need to be convinced to turn their public shares into private stakes. And if the Saudis do formalize their desire to fund the exercise, the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will likely take an interest in the deal, given Tesla’s prominence in the battery and electric-vehicle markets.
Whatever happens with Tesla now, it’s unlikely to be a smooth or particularly swift ride. More news below.
The Chinese Commerce Ministry is sending a delegation to the U.S. for talks this month. It's not clear whether the talks will be successful, but at least they're talking—it's been a month and a half since the last formal trade negotiations, and the intervening period has been very trade-war-y. This time the negotiators will be rather more low-level. The news of the talks helped Asian markets pare losses from earlier in the day. CNN
China's Tencent has lost over $175 billion of its value this year, most recently thanks to results showing its first quarterly profit drop. The tech firm's shares are down 6.7%, and analysts are busy apologizing to their clients for recommending them—some now even warn that this could be the spark for an emerging markets selloff. Wall Street Journal
Turkey and Qatar
However, the Turkish lira—the apparent collapse of which hit emerging markets hard—is rallying again today. The reason is Qatar's announcement of a $15 billion investment in Turkey, to help stabilize things. Remember that the smaller state is currently a pariah in its region, with neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain having cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade, partly due to Qatar's friendliness towards Iran. Who stuck up for Qatar when that crisis hit last year? You guessed it: Turkey. New York Times
Uber's losses increased in Q2, up to $659 million from $577 million in Q1. This is due to increased investment in things such as food delivery and bike sharing. "We're deliberately investing in the future of our platform," said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who does not believe Uber needs to be profitable before going public—something that's on the agenda for next year. Financial Times
Around the Water Cooler
@Jack On Jones
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey thinks his platform's suspension of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for one week may just do the job. "I feel any suspension, whether it be a permanent or a temporary one, makes someone think about their actions and their behaviors," Dorsey said, somewhat optimistically. Jones was suspended for calling on his supporters to get their "battle rifles" ready for the media. Here's what's leading on the Infowars site this morning: "Could a false-flag attack against the media be pinned on Infowars to further their efforts to shut us down entirely?" NBC
Constellation Brands, maker of Corona beer, is investing $4 billion into Canopy Growth, Canada's biggest marijuana producer. The news saw Canopy's shares in Toronto soar by 30%, and Constellation's on Wall Street fall by 6%. Canopy intends to use the cash infusion to expand its product line—inhalers, edibles and what the BBC charmingly calls "pre-rolled items" are on the menu. BBC
Weedkiller for Breakfast
Environmentalists have found unhealthy levels of of Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller in a variety of oat-based products, such as Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Quaker Old Fashioned Oats. Roundup's active ingredient is glyphosate, and there's some disagreement about whether or not it causes cancer—the EU reckons it does not, but a recent jury verdict in the U.S. established that it does. Fortune
MSA Capital managing partner Ben Harburg makes several interesting points in his piece for Fortune about the unbalanced information flow from the West to China. The issue isn't due to Chinese protectionism, but to American isolationism, he argues: "American students have voluntarily eschewed China, cementing a generation ill prepared to effectively collaborate, compete, and respond to its rise…While trade balances and import tariffs might be highly controversial and fiercely contested, this intellectual imbalance has no significant opposition within the U.S. China’s door is open, but few Americans will venture through." Fortune