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A battle brews for Gannett
MNG Enterprises, the owner of one of the largest newspaper businesses in the country, made a $12-per-share offer today for Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and dozens of other publications.
The news: The proposal from MNG, which owns 200 publications, to buy Gannett represents a 41 percent premium over the company’s closing price at the end of last year. MNG, which has a history of acquiring struggling local papers and cutting costs, has a 7.5 percent stake in Gannett, making it Gannett’s largest active shareholder. Gannett’s stock price surged in premarket trading after the bid.
The back story: Over the past few years, MNG has made several approaches about a deal, only to be rebuffed, the WSJ reported. Gannett, whose shares have dropped in recent years, has been seeking to remake itself. In 2016, it backed off a bid to acquire Tronc, the media company now known as Tribune Publishing.
The backlash: MNG, one of the largest newspaper chains in the country, owns about 200 newspapers and publications including The Denver Post and The Orange County Register. Last year, frustrated journalists at The Denver paper criticized its owner, making the case for its survival.
In related news: The East Bay Express, an alternative weekly in San Francisco, laid off almost its entire editorial staff on Friday, its publisher said, adding that it would rely instead on freelance writers. And after a challenge from Stephen King, The Portland Press Herald in Maine said it would bring back its local book reviews if the author and his followers brought in 100 new subscriptions. They brought in twice that.
Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin and Stephen Grocer in New York, and Tiffany Hsu and Gregory Schmidt in Paris.
A push for electric cars at the Detroit auto show
Electric vehicles will be a hot topic at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which opens to the news media and industry executives today and to the public on Saturday.
Automakers are preparing to introduce dozens of electric cars and hybrid vehicles over the next few years, the NYT’s Neal Boudette writes. But to sell those cars, they will have to attract a new class of customer:
“Mainstream consumers may be harder to win over than the wealthy luxury car buyers, hard-core environmentalists and early adopters who have flocked to buy Model 3s and delivered Tesla’s rapid sales growth. That may be especially true in the middle of the country, because charging stations are more sparse there than on the coasts, where most Tesla models are sold.”
Russia revelations and a shutdown create a “sense of siege”
The longest government shutdown in American history, dragging into its 24th day today, could become a side note in an “all-out political war for survival,” as President Trump faces intensifying concerns about his relationship with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. The NYT’s Peter Baker writes:
“Instead of talks to end the shutdown, the president spent at least part of his weekend defending himself against the suspicions about his affinity for Mr. Putin.”
In recent days, The Washington Post found that President Trump had repeatedly tried to hide details of his conversations with Mr. Putin. The NYT reported on the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump, which was initiated after he fired James Comey as F.B.I. director and questioned whether he had been influenced by Russia.
Asked in an interview on Fox News on Saturday night if he was a Russian agent, President Trump said it was “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.” He did not issue an explicit denial.
The new Democratic House majority has seized on the revelations, adding another pressure point in President Trump’s strained relationship with Congress. Negotiations to end the shutdown, at a standstill over President Trump’s demand for border wall funding, could end up on the back burner, even as contagion effects seep through the economy.
• As a result of the shutdown, 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay, and many are filing for unemployment benefits. NASA laboratories, Smithsonian museums and other sites in Washington are empty. There are fewer food inspections, longer airport security lines and more trash in those national parks that are still open.
• Air traffic controllers working without pay in New York on Friday received a pizza delivery from colleagues in Canada.
• More than 300 small-business loans — or nearly $200 million in capital — are not being approved each day.
• Contract workers, who will most likely not be reimbursed for unpaid wages, may be especially hard hit.
• Wall Street deals that require national security reviews or approval from antitrust regulators will have to wait.
• GoFundMe will refund more than $20 million in donations raised to help fund the border wall. The campaign organizer, Brian Kolfage, had initially promised to return the funds if the effort fell short of its $1 billion goal.
Bank earnings blitz comes with caution
This week brings quarterly results from major banks, with Citigroup reporting today, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo tomorrow, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs on Wednesday and Morgan Stanley on Thursday.
The last three months of 2018 were rough for the six financial giants, which lost more than $200 billion in value amid a record stock sell-off. The new year has only intensified nervousness over slowing global growth while providing a steady drumbeat of unimpressive holiday sales, and slashed revenue and profit forecasts.
Risk aversion in the market has cramped liquidity, leading to increased warnings about volatility fueled by automated trading programs. And the effect of the 2017 tax overhaul is waning, putting companies in the difficult position of comparing their current lackluster results with their strong performance after the law first went into effect.
Chinese exports and foreign investment tumble
The cavalcade of data demonstrating China’s slowing economic growth continues, with the largest drop in exports in two years.
Analysts had expected the Chinese government to report a gain in outbound shipments for December. Instead, the dollar value of exports slumped 4.4 percent from a year earlier, as Chinese electronics and other products struggled to excite international consumers.
Imports fell 7.6 percent; domestic demand for goods is weakening, with car sales contracting for the first time in more than two decades last year, and sliding 13 percent last month in the sixth straight month of declines.
The figures underscored a recent refrain on Wall Street: China’s powerhouse economic engine is sputtering.
• China’s overall trade surplus is at its lowest level since 2013. However, even amid a bitter trade feud with the Trump administration, China’s surplus with the United States is the largest it has been in more than a decade, with exports from China growing 11.3 percent last year, compared with a 0.7 percent increase in imports from the U.S.
• But China’s foreign direct investment in North America and Europe has slumped to a six-year low. American regulators are intensifying their oversight of deals with Chinese companies, and Chinese officials have tightened the flow of funds overseas. Chinese investment in the U.S. fell 83 percent last year, while its investments in Canada surged 80 percent.
• Foreign companies continue to complain about barriers in China. Applications submitted by Visa and Mastercard to process renminbi payments have been largely ignored by China’s central bank, according to the FT.
The billionaire (maybe) presidential candidate
Michael Bloomberg’s publisher recently released a revised edition of his 1997 book, “Bloomberg by Bloomberg,” and Andrew notes that it offers some nuggets about the roles of government and philanthropy that could become talking points on the campaign trail if he runs for president in 2020.
• “Philanthropy has traditionally been thought of as an alternative to government — and in some cases, it is. But I also see it as a way to embolden government.”
• “There are powerful disincentives working against government innovation, because innovation involves risk, and risk involves the potential for failure. And if there’s one thing that scares politicians — not to mention their political advisers — it’s failure.”
• “The second disincentive working against innovation in government is more understandable: fiduciary duty. As an elected official, you are responsible for spending taxpayers’ dollars wisely, and it can be hard to justify spending the public’s money on an untested idea, especially when budgets are already stretched thin. That’s where philanthropy comes in.”
NBC and Megyn Kelly reached a final agreement on Friday to part ways, nearly three months after she wondered aloud on-air why it was inappropriate for white people to dress up in blackface for Halloween. (NYT)
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which is planning a bankruptcy filing, said its chief executive, Geisha Williams, was stepping down. John Simon, the company’s general counsel, will serve as interim chief executive during the search. (NYT)
• Goldman Sachs has tried to pin the blame for an international multibillion-dollar fraud in Malaysia on a few rogue bankers, but the government of Malaysia is not buying it. (NYT)
• Viacom, which has been in China for more than two decades but has struggled to grow its presence there, is in talks to sell a majority stake in some of its operations there. (WSJ)
• L’Occitane International, the cosmetics firm, will buy the beauty brand Elemis for around $900 million. (Bloomberg)
• The Singapore developer CapitaLand agreed to buy two property units from the state investor Temasek Holdings for $4.4 billion, a deal it said would create Asia’s largest diversified real estate company. (Bloomberg)
• Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgium-based maker of Budweiser, is said to be considering an initial public offering of its Asian operations that could raise more than $5 billion. (Bloomberg)
• E.U. antitrust regulators have until Feb. 18 to decide whether to approve the merger of the rail operations of Siemens and Alstom, but they must now consider serious doubts from the German government. (Reuters)
• High-tech farming outside Pittsburgh has given rise to cows in Fitbit-like collars milked by robots, and an automated greenhouse filled with kale and baby carrots. (NYT)
• Elon Musk’s SpaceX will lay off roughly 10 percent of its work force, including 577 positions at its headquarters in Southern California. (Bloomberg)
• MacKenzie Bezos is a novelist and an ambassador for Amazon. Public fascination with her private life has exploded since her divorce was announced. (NYT)
• Amazon became the largest company in the world by market capitalization this month. Its ascendancy is a reminder that the biggest companies can be toppled. (WSJ)
• Samsung, hoping to catch up to Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi, will introduce the budget M-series smartphones in India before selling them globally. (Reuters)
Politics and policy
• The British Parliament is set to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal tomorrow. (BBC)
• Will John Bolton, the national security adviser, instigate a conflict with Iran just as President Trump is pulling American troops out of the Middle East? The possibility worries senior Pentagon officials. (NYT)
• A homegrown disinformation campaign in Alabama led Russian news sources to report: “The only ‘Russian bots’ to meddle in U.S. elections belonged to Democrat-linked experts.” (NYT)
• President Emmanuel Macron of France has begun a three-month initiative to quell unrest in the country while sticking to his economic reform agenda. (Reuters)
• Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right party in France, began a campaign for the European Parliament with an appeal to the “yellow vest” protest movement. (Reuters)
Best of the rest
• Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, was challenged to push harder on climate-related shareholder resolutions. (FT)
• Many large hedge funds reported substantial losses in 2018, as stock market declines and interest rate increases created difficulties for the investment industry. (FT)
• Britain is creating a task force to crack down on fraud, corruption and dirty money. (Reuters)
• Economists are producing forecasts for the British economy based on an exit treaty, a no-deal Brexit and the possibility of Britain remaining in the European Union. (FT)
• Coaching contracts negotiated in the past week hint that the N.F.L. is seeking to protect itself from a possible work stoppage in 2021. (ESPN)
• John Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods, told employees the grocery chain had scrapped plans to expand its lower-priced Whole Foods 365 stores. (Yahoo)
• Mozambique’s governing party has been mostly silent since the nation’s former finance minister and former Credit Suisse bankers were indicted in one of Africa’s biggest corruption cases. (FT)
• Sales of gin have soared in Britain. Now, distillers who are eager to avoid market saturation are in search of a global cocktail crowd. (NYT)
• India surpassed Germany in autos sales, becoming the fourth-largest market in the world. (FT)
Thanks for reading! We’ll see you on Tuesday.
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