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‘Highlights’ from the ‘hot mess’
What to make of last night’s chaotic presidential debate? The Times’s Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns called it an “ugly melee,” CNN’s Jake Tapper dubbed it “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck” and The Washington Post’s Dan Balz described it as “an insult to the public.” But in between the shouting, the invective and the trampling of the debate moderator — one transcript noted 73 instances of “[crosstalk]” — there was some discussion of issues that matter to business.
The highlights (if you can call them that):
• The Affordable Care Act: President Trump disputed Joe Biden’s claim that 100 million people with pre-existing conditions might lose their health care if the law is overturned, before falsely claiming that as president he has promoted a comprehensive replacement for Obamacare. Mr. Trump also accused Mr. Biden of “going to socialist medicine,” which Mr. Biden forcefully denied.
• The economy: Mr. Trump took credit for spurring job creation amid the pandemic: “We had 10.4 million people in a four-month period that we’ve put back into the work force.” Mr. Biden criticized the president’s handling of the coronavirus and said Mr. Trump would be “the only president in modern history to leave office with fewer jobs than when he took office.”
• Taxes: Mr. Trump disputed The Times’s reporting on his tax returns: “I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax.” Mr. Biden said that the president’s policies had disproportionately helped the wealthy — “Billionaires have made another $300 billion because of his profligate tax proposal” — and that average Americans paid far more in taxes than the $750 that Mr. Trump paid in both 2016 and 2017.
The main takeaway is that the debate didn’t alter the race. UBS’s Paul Donovan wrote in a note to clients today that, if anything, “the debate may have increased expectations for a contested election result,” particularly as Mr. Trump again suggested that he would challenge an unfavorable outcome. Political betting markets also showed little change, maintaining odds implying Mr. Biden is still the favorite to (eventually) win.
Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin and Lauren Hirsch in New York, Ephrat Livni in Washington, and Michael J. de la Merced and Jason Karaian in London.
Here’s what’s happening
Disney is laying off 28,000 employees. The job cuts account for around a quarter of workers at its theme parks in California and Florida, who had been on furlough. Disneyland in California remains closed, while customers have been reluctant to return to Disney World in Florida, which reopened on a limited basis in July.
Internal documents point to a “mounting injury crisis” at Amazon. Records obtained by The Reveal purport to show a growing number of workers being hurt at the company’s warehouses from 2016 to 2019. The injuries are “especially acute” during peak periods like Prime Day, according to the report. Separately, Target and Walmart announced their own mid-October sales events that coincide with Prime Day.
JPMorgan Chase will pay $920 million to settle “spoofing” trading accusations. The bank admitted wrongdoing by 15 of its traders who sought to manipulate markets for precious metals and Treasury securities. The Justice Department said the scheme cost other traders more than $300 million in losses.
New York City elementary schools reopened for in-person teaching. About 300,000 schoolchildren returned yesterday, the most of any U.S. school district. The move was hailed as a way to help get parents back to work, but hours after reopening Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the city’s daily rate of positive Covid-19 tests had climbed above 3 percent, potentially leading to another shutdown.
The N.F.L. suffered its first Covid-19 team outbreak. At least nine members of the Tennessee Titans organization, including three players, tested positive for the coronavirus. Experts said that this was inevitable, given the lack of a “bubble” system and the full-contact nature of football. The Titans have put off practice until the extent of the outbreak is known, potentially upending this weekend’s game schedule (and giving gamblers something new to factor into their wagers).
It’s D-Day for direct listings
Palantir and Asana will both begin trading today on the New York Stock Exchange via direct listings, in which no money is raised via selling shares in advance. The deals are only the third and fourth high-profile direct listings in years, following Spotify and Slack. Given the rarity of such deals and the size of the companies going to market, the listings will likely serve as a barometer for whether more could follow suit.
The details: Asana, expected to settle at a valuation of about $5 billion, is a workplace software company started by the Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. Palantir, which could be valued at more than $20 billion, is a software company used by government agencies. It was co-founded by Peter Thiel, who remains the largest individual shareholder and will wield inordinate control over the company once it goes public.
How to measure success: The initial success of any public offering is judged partly on where it prices. Does it earn a valuation higher in the public market than it did from private investors? Does it trade up (but not too far up) after listing? Pricing in direct listings is trickier than in the traditional I.P.O. process, because there is no book-building process in which bankers negotiate and allot shares to institutional investors beforehand. As such, the process is largely in the hands of market makers (Citadel, for both Asana and Palantir).
The listings could steal glory from other ways of going public. Companies going public increasingly consider a three-track process, weighing traditional I.P.O.s, direct listings and SPACs. SPACs are dilutive but also offer fresh cash, whereas direct listings do not (though that may soon change). Traditional I.P.O.s also raise cash, and may be a better fit for companies that lack brand recognition and need help telling their story to investors but are criticized for steep fees and a tendency to underprice shares to produce a first-day “pop.” A smooth, well-received performance for Asana and Palantir today may help tip the scale in direct listings’ direction.
A political dispute in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The powerful business lobbying group’s top political strategist, Scott Reed, resigned over what he called a drift to the political left. The chamber disputes his account.
Mr. Reed said he had left because of a string of endorsements of Democrats and what he characterized as a lack of commitment to defend Republicans’ majority in the Senate. Mr. Reed is a longtime Republican operative who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign and was credited with helping oust Representative Steve King of Iowa over his hard-line views on immigration.
The chamber said he had been fired for improper conduct, including breaching confidentiality and leaking to news outlets. The group noted that it has endorsed 192 House Republicans, versus 30 Democrats, and it supports President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
The dispute highlights the minefield of political endorsements. Bruce Mehlman, a partner at the bipartisan Washington lobbying group Mehlman Castagnetti, told DealBook that his corporate clients increasingly faced questions about which candidates and issues to endorse, and it’s “definitely accelerating.” The hyperpartisan atmosphere affects perceptions of brand values and company culture, which can be fraught for executives trying to balance competing views.
What’s next for the airline industry?
By the end of today, U.S. lawmakers must decide whether to extend a $25 billion grant program offered to airlines to keep employees on the payroll. And airlines must decide whether they want to tap a $25 billion loan program to cover general costs.
Seven carriers have said they will take up the loans before the deadline — including American and United, but not Delta or Southwest. All have pushed for an extension of payroll grants, and warned of tens of thousands layoffs without an agreement.
Three ways this might play out:
1) Congress strikes a deal. House Democrats rolled out a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill on Monday that included aid to airline workers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was hopeful about a deal with Republicans after a 50-minute call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday. The two plan to resume talks today. Even an agreement in principle may be enough to stave off airline layoffs, as the companies expect a bill to make its way to the president’s desk before too long.
• If talks over a comprehensive coronavirus relief package falter, lawmakers could also pass a stand-alone bill for airlines. Yet executives would prefer not to be placed in the spotlight: The industry, which has binged on buybacks, is facing heat for receiving aid while others, like retail and hospitality, suffer under the pressure of the pandemic.
2) President Trump acts on his own. The administration has spoken on and off about offering aid to airlines through an executive order. From a political standpoint, it could be framed as a job-saving “win” for Mr. Trump, but the logistics of such a maneuver remain unclear. “We think the better plan is to get legislation passed,” Doug Parker, American Airlines’ C.E.O., recently said.
3) The aid expires with no sign of more money. This is when airlines’ dire warnings will be revealed as either negotiating tactics or founded in reality. Some, like United and Delta, have mitigated layoffs through voluntary buyouts. Others, like American, haven’t been able to strike such deals. Industry experts say that without more aid, the biggest airlines are likely to survive for at least the short term. Regional airlines, though, may face bankruptcy and even liquidation. And troubles for carriers would be likely to ripple broadly, hitting suppliers, service providers and more.
California wildfires prompt wine market fears
More than 8,100 blazes have burned nearly four million acres across California this year. The Glass Fire that broke out this week near Napa, which is only 2 percent contained, is ravaging parts of the famous winemaking region in the middle of the harvest season, and the effects may linger long after the fires are extinguished.
Grapes untouched by flames can be tarnished by ash or smoke taint, and the extent of the damage is revealed only in the fermentation process. Since red wines are fermented along with their skins, which bear the brunt of smoke taint, they are more affected than whites. How bad is the taint? There is a testing backlog, Gladys Horiuchi of the lobbying group Wine Institute told DealBook, so the economic effects aren’t yet known.
Most California wine grapes are sold in advance, leaving only 20 percent on the market for harvest bidding. Vineyards and wineries are working together to mitigate the impact of the fires, Ms. Horiuchi said, and the goal is to avoid any smoke-tainted wine ever going on sale. That means drinkers may not notice any difference while, behind the scenes, supply chains and longstanding industry relationships come under severe pressure.
• Reports suggest that some wineries are offering growers reduced payments to keep them in business but avoid potentially tainted grapes, while major buyers like Constellation warn that contracts could be voided for elevated taint. Others are turning to the bulk market, which is usually quiet over the harvest, to cover the shortfall.
Assessing the immediate damage: The San Francisco Chronicle is keeping a running list of wineries and vineyards in Napa that have been hit by the Glass Fire, with extensive damage reported at Castello di Amorosa (although its famous castle survived), Chateau Boswell and LVMH-owned Newton Vineyard, among others.
The speed read
• What pandemic? Blockbuster deals made for the busiest summer for M.&A. activity in three decades. (FT)
• NTT’s $40 billion deal for its wireless affiliate has revived speculation about another take-private possibility in Japan: SoftBank. (Bloomberg)
• Joanna Coles, the former editor of Hearst magazines, is leading a blank-check company that seeks to raise $300 million for acquisitions. (Reuters)
• A blank-check company focused on green-energy targets, led by a former C.E.O. of NRG Energy, raised $200 million from investors. (BusinessWire)
Politics and policy
• The Treasury Department plans to start forgiving Paycheck Protection Loans soon, after complaints from borrowers. (WSJ)
• The Justice Department’s antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, said he planned to scrutinize the prices that exchanges charge for trading data. (Bloomberg)
• Seattle’s City Council approved a minimum pay rate for Uber and Lyft drivers, the second city in the U.S. to do so. (NYT)
• The E.U. is prepared to clear Google’s $2.1 billion takeover of the fitness device maker Fitbit after the tech giant pledged not to use Fitbit user data to target ads for 10 years. (FT)
Best of the rest
• Blackstone plans to cut carbon emissions of companies or assets that it buys by 15 percent within three years of acquiring them. (WSJ)
• Students said that software that watches them take tests “feels like an invasion of privacy.” (NYT)