More polarization ahead
A draft Supreme Court opinion shows that a majority of justices voted in February to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case establishing the right to abortion. The opinion, obtained by Politico, is still subject to change and debate up until its official release, which is expected by this summer. Regardless of the outcome, the draft is likely to have immediate consequences for business, thrusting companies further into the political fray.
More companies may be compelled to speak out. This is already playing out at the state level in places like Texas, where a restrictive abortion law has led Yelp, Citigroup and others to pledge to help pay for employees to travel out of state for abortions. (Amazon told employees yesterday that it would provide similar reimbursements.) The draft opinion just turned this polarizing issue into a pressing midterm election question. That means companies could expect pressure from both employees and consumers to take a stand.
Corporate political spending will get strict scrutiny. Since the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, companies have faced more pressure to align their political contributions with their stated principles. Roe v. Wade is perhaps the most contentious case of this age, so for businesses there is no politically safe decision, and they may have to choose which enemies they can afford to make. Taking a stand, whether by speaking up, contributing to causes or withholding funding from politicians as punishment, can have consequences.
Tension between businesses and politicians may intensify. Disney’s recent battles with Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, over a law prohibiting discussion of gender identity in some public schools cost the company its special tax privileges and good will from key Republicans. Last year, companies that stood up for voting rights in Georgia, Florida, Texas and other states faced political retribution, or at least threats of it. As companies take stances on social and cultural issues that anger people on the right, conservative politicians are spurning their contributions and pushing back. Expect more of these conflicts.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
BP takes a $25.5 billion hit from its decision to exit its Russia holdings. The British energy giant still reported its highest profits in a decade, underpinned by soaring oil and natural gas prices. But the high costs of withdrawal from Russia are becoming clearer as oil companies report first-quarter earnings. Shell reports on Thursday.
Germany is backing the E.U.’s plan for an embargo on Russian oil. Its shift on the issue helps clear the way for new sanctions that could deprive Moscow of millions of euros a day. Germany is one of Russia’s biggest energy customers.
The upstart Amazon Labor Union suffers a setback. After a landmark victory at a nearby New York warehouse last month, workers at a smaller Staten Island facility with a higher proportion of part-time staff rejected unionization by a wide margin, possibly signaling the limits to a recent rise in worker interest in organizing.
A Department of Homeland Security board is embroiled in a debate over disinformation. The creation of the board, announced last week, has led to a partisan disagreement over the government’s role in policing false, toxic or violent content online. Republican lawmakers have called the board Orwellian.
A crypto crackdown?
The S.E.C. said this morning that it was doubling down on crypto enforcement, bolstering a cybersecurity team created in 2017 and renaming it the Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit. That group has worked on about 80 crypto enforcement actions, and it is growing to 50 people from 30 “to be better equipped to police wrongdoing in the crypto markets,” the agency’s chairman, Gary Gensler, said in a statement. The move reflects growing investor interest in crypto and the many financial products it has spawned — as well as the S.E.C.’s concerns about the risks that have accompanied this rapid growth.
There will be “a spill in Aisle Three,” Gensler has said to DealBook and others, predicting crypto disaster on a grand scale if regulators don’t act fast and write new rules. As it stands, he argues, investors have little information about the dangers of playing in regulatory gray spaces. But adding more cops on the beat will displease the crypto industry and its supporters, who are already unhappy about what they perceive as S.E.C. overreach and an agency that regulates through enforcement.
Retail investors are “bearing the brunt of abuses in this space,” said Gurbir Grewal, the S.E.C.’s enforcement chief, and more enforcers can help protect them. Grewal is not new to crypto policing. He was attorney general in New Jersey when it began investigating the crypto lending firm BlockFi, and he recently oversaw a $50 million S.E.C. settlement with the company for apparently violating securities registration requirements and misstating product risks. (BlockFi agreed to pay another $50 million to 32 states to settle similar charges; it didn’t admit or deny guilt.) Under Grewal’s watch, the S.E.C. also warned the crypto exchange Coinbase that it would be sued for a similar offering, prompting its C.E.O., Brian Armstrong, to lament on Twitter: “If we end up in court we may finally get the regulatory clarity the SEC refuses to provide.”
New rules will mean more to enforce. Gensler appears happy to offer regulatory clarity, even if it’s not what the industry wants. He has said all crypto exchanges, including decentralized finance platforms where users transact pseudonymously via “smart contracts” or code, should be subject to the same requirements as traditional stock exchanges. The industry believes this will just force crypto innovation to happen overseas: Bill Hughes, senior counsel at the blockchain software company ConsenSys, warned that it could lead to “a steady drumbeat of enforcement actions that would dramatically redefine the risk profile of running a U.S.-based crypto project.”
“This is an affordability emergency. If you want to control inflation, one of the things you have to control is energy costs.”
— Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, which represents utility customers in California. Many Americans are facing rapidly rising electricity bills.
Schmoozing in Beverly Hills
The Milken Institute’s Global Conference, an annual confab of academics, deal makers, politicians and celebrities hosted by the former junk bond king Michael Milken, opened its 25th session in Beverly Hills on Sunday. The conference’s unique Wall Street-West Coast mash-up means participants can walk out of a discussion on inflation and into a demonstration of how sound waves can activate “higher states of consciousness,” led by a woman with a giant glass bell.
As in past years at the Beverly Hilton, the lobby, which arches around the hotel’s circular driveway, felt more packed than any of the conference rooms hosting panel discussions. Roaming the lobby were David Solomon, the Goldman Sachs C.E.O.; Raymond McGuire, the banker and former New York mayoral; the comedian Tiffany Haddish; and the “Sex and the City” actress Kristin Davis, among others. One floor down, rooms around the pool were turned into “cabanas” for private conversations.
In the conference rooms, there were discussions on whether U.S. corporations have taken on too much debt, what was dividing the nation politically and culturally, and the best ways to help refugees from the war in Ukraine.
The tech-stock investor Cathie Wood, whose star power has clearly not dimmed despite her fund’s recent poor performance, participated in two of the most popular forums. In a session on crypto, she argued that NFTs were enhancing property rights. In another on markets, Wood argued that artificial intelligence and other technological innovations would eliminate inflation — and perhaps lead to deflation. “This period is the most innovative in history,” she said.
THE SPEED READ
Spirit Airlines turned down JetBlue’s acquisition offer, opting to go ahead with a merger deal with Frontier. (NYT)
The G-III Apparel Group, which owns DKNY, will become the sole owner of the Karl Lagerfeld brand with a $210 million buyout of other investors. (CNBC)
Vice Media is reportedly exploring a sale, after its plans to go public via a SPAC last year stalled. (CNBC)
Russia wants to sell more oil and coal to China and India, but Western sanctions make that hard unless it cuts prices. (NYT)
“Facing a Wheat Crisis, Countries Race to Remake an Entire Market on the Fly” (WSJ)
The E.U. is looking to Africa to help reduce its dependency on Russian gas. (Bloomberg)
Russia’s women’s soccer team is barred from the European championship and the World Cup. (NYT)
Bitcoin supporters including Jack Dorsey wrote to the E.P.A. to rebut House Democrats’ claims about the environmental effects of crypto mining. (CNBC)
A Citi trader’s error was the cause of a “flash crash” in European stock markets yesterday. (BBC)
Best of the rest
As the World Cup in Qatar nears, some brands are trying to distance themselves from the host country because of its human rights record. (NYT)
Workers in Austin, Texas, are putting in more time at the office than in any other major U.S. metropolitan area. (WSJ)
In some parts of North Carolina, big corporate landlords have bought up at least 1 in 20 single-family homes, an investigation shows. (Charlotte Observer)
How Elon Musk winged it with Twitter, and everything else. (NYT)
“The Tale of a Crypto Executive Who Wasn’t Who He Said He Was” (NYT)
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