The mess left behind
Shares of Twitter plunged by more than 11 percent yesterday to one of their lowest points since 2020, and investors fretted over whether Elon Musk would be able to successfully pull out of his $44 billion acquisition of the social media company. Twitter’s lawyers at Wachtell wrote to Musk’s lawyers, saying that his efforts to pull out of the deal were “invalid” and that he had “intentionally, willfully and materially breached” the contract. Whether that is the case is likely to be settled in Delaware, where Twitter is expected to file suit as soon as this week.
But one thing is for sure: Musk has left Twitter worse off than it was when he said he would buy it, write The Times’s Kate Conger and Mike Isaac. Here’s why:
Musk exposed the company’s waning financial and business prospects. Twitter has operated at a loss for seven of the nine years it has been a public company. It received no rival offers while Musk was trying to buy it. Its board determined that Musk’s offer of $54.20 a share was the best it could obtain, suggesting it saw no way to reach that price on its own.
And since Twitter accepted Musk’s offer, its stock has lost over a third of its value. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index, by contrast, has fallen by about 12.5 percent in the same period.
Things became worse for Twitter after Musk signed the deal. Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s C.E.O., told employees in May that the company had not lived up to its business and financial goals. He pushed out the heads of product and revenue and instituted a hiring slowdown. The company’s trajectory is unlikely to change as long as uncertainty over the deal discomfits advertisers, the main source of Twitter’s revenue. Inside the company, employee morale has been battered, leading to disagreements and attrition, according to six current and former employees.
“His engagement with Twitter took a severe toll on the company,” said Jason Goldman, a member of Twitter’s founding team who has also served on its board of directors.
Musk riled up his 100 million followers against the company. Amid his memes taking aim at Twitter, he jackhammered the product, saying it was not as attractive as other apps. His barbs about fake accounts have weakened trust in the company, just as it prepares to moderate heated discussions about an upcoming election in Brazil and the U.S. midterm elections this fall. In May, Musk said he would “reverse the permanent ban” of former President Donald J. Trump from Twitter, energizing right-wing users who have long accused the company of censoring them.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Justice Department is investigating whether the PGA Tour violated antitrust rules as it fought a new rival, LIV Golf. Agents of players have received inquiries about the PGA Tour’s actions in recent weeks. Greg Norman, chief executive of LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, has said the PGA Tour is trying to maintain an “illegal monopoly.” The PGA Tour denies wrongdoing.
London’s Heathrow Airport asks airlines to stop selling tickets for the summer. In an open letter to passengers, Heathrow’s C.E.O., John Holland-Kaye, said the airport was introducing a capacity cap from today through Sept. 11. Staff shortages have cut into the airport’s ability to handle vacationers.
Read More About Elon Musk and Twitter
Gap’s C.E.O., Sonia Syngal, exits the struggling retailer. Bob Martin, a former Walmart executive, will serve as interim C.E.O. and is tasked with helping to lift sales at Gap and turn around problems at Old Navy. Gap is among a number of chains that have been stuck with excess inventory as consumer spending shifted in the past year to leisure activities like restaurants and travel.
Bill Ackman’s SPAC will return $4 billion to investors after failing to complete a deal. Two years after raising the largest-ever special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, Ackman has concluded that he will be unable to do a deal. In a letter to shareholders yesterday, Ackman said many “high-quality and profitable” companies, given the recent market conditions, are no longer interested in going public.
Peloton will stop its in-house bike production. The company, once the darling of pandemic home workouts, said today that it was teaming up with the Taiwanese manufacturer Rexon as part of its bid to cut costs and simplify operations. The move will allow the company to more easily ramp up or down depending on demand.
Is the Fed pushing up rents?
The Federal Reserve’s efforts to curb inflation by sharply raising interest rates are quickly changing housing calculations. As borrowing costs for would-be home buyers rise, more people are forgoing their homeownership dreams — and further driving up rental prices that have been escalating since the pandemic began. As a result, residential real estate companies are struggling. The online real estate service Redfin saw its stock tumble yesterday after it reported that home-purchase deals were falling through fast, and an analyst downgraded his rating of the company’s shares.
Rents could keep rising for a while. The price of new leases climbed by 14.1 percent in the year through June, according to the listing service Apartment List. Although that is slightly less than the 17.5 percent increase for all of 2021, it is still an unusually rapid pace of growth compared with the usual 2 to 3 percent annual increase before the pandemic, report The Times’s Jeanna Smialek and Conor Dougherty. “A lot of folks are seeing now as they go to re-sign their lease that it’s hundreds more dollars than last month, thousands more dollars than last month,” said Nicole Bachaud, an economist at the housing website Zillow. “We’re going to continue to see pressure in rent prices; to what extent is to be seen.”
The pandemic sped up a housing trend long in development. The U.S. has for many years failed to build apartments at a pace that matches growing demand while the massive millennial generation has aged. And supply in the works now may not match needs, as new developments skew toward luxury buildings while affordable housing is what’s really missing. As borrowing costs have climbed, new home construction has dropped sharply. It fell 14.4 percent in May to the lowest rate in more than a year, and early data suggest that apartment construction is also taking a hit.
Would-be buyers are thinking twice. Redfin said roughly 60,000 home-purchase agreements across the country fell through in June, the highest rate since March and April 2020 when the pandemic began, amounting to nearly 15 percent of homes that went under contract. The slowdown in competition is making buyers more inclined to act on inspection and appraisal contingencies that they may have previously waived in the rush to close, said Taylor Marr, an economist at Redfin. “That gives them the flexibility to call the deal off.”
“There is no excuse for how the company played with people’s lives.”
— Mark MacGann, a former top Uber lobbyist turned whistle blower, who helped the company win over government officials in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and now says that the company knowingly flouted laws and misled drivers and others about the benefits of the company’s gig-economy model. Uber has said that MacGann, who left the company in 2016, is not giving an accurate picture of how the company acts today.
Does Washington have a crypto ethics problem?
Lawmakers in Washington are racing to write new rules to regulate crypto. One missing: A rule to cover their own behavior. The Office of Government Ethics recently issued new guidance that regulators and other government staffers who own crypto should not be involved in policymaking when it comes to those digital assets, even if their holdings are minimal. But questions about lawmakers’ conflicts of interest when it comes to crypto are not likely to be addressed anytime soon.
Lawmakers, unlike others in government, don’t face crypto trading restrictions. And that includes some of those proposing crypto legislation — like Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate banking committee, who has reported crypto holdings. The O.G.E.’s guidance reflects an understanding that there should be some distance between officials’ personal fortunes and the policies they shape. That same instinct has fueled a growing movement to limit lawmakers’ ability to trade stocks.
Pressure is mounting to ban lawmakers from trading individual stocks. They already have to disclose their trades, thanks to the STOCK Act of 2012, but there is increasing support for a halt to trading while in office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who initially resisted trading limits and whose husband, Paul Pelosi, is an active trader, has tasked Zoe Lofgren of California, chairwoman of the House Committee on Administration, with creating new rules. Lofgren held a public hearing in April, and bills sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans are circulating. But there is no deadline for action and apparently no resolution in sight.
Progress on a wider trading overhaul appears stalled. A spokesman for Senator Jon Ossoff, Democrat of Georgia, who has proposed a total stock trading ban, said only that “discussions continue,” including on just what types of investments might be restricted. This suggests crypto holdings could get a pass even if a congressional trading ban advances.
As for Toomey, he told DealBook he opposes an outright investment ban for members of Congress, adding that he sees no conflicts arising from crypto investments. “Should a lawmaker’s spouse be forbidden from buying green bonds if their husband or wife votes to combat climate change?” he asked. “Should veterans serving in Congress be prohibited from having a say in the policies of the Department of Veterans Affairs?”
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