DealBook Briefing: Ant Financial’s Deal Failure Shows Limits of Befriending Trump

Good Wednesday morning. The death of Ant Financial’s bid to buy MoneyGram raises questions about how useful close ties to President Trump are. Peter Thiel gave Bitcoin a big lift yesterday. And how Senator Orrin Hatch’s retirement represents a headache for the White House.

So much for the charm offensive last year by Jack Ma: U.S. officials have effectively killed a $1.2 billion takeover bid by one of his companies for MoneyGram.

The failure of Ant Financial, an electronic payments company controlled by Mr. Ma, to win approval from an American national security watchdog raises questions of how much being friendly to President Trump ultimately helps.

If it’s true that White House officials are clashing over how hard a negotiating stance to take with countries like China over trade, this development suggests that the hawks might have the upper hand right now.

Who should be worried

• Foreign companies, particularly Chinese ones, seeking to buy American counterparts. (Think also of Broadcom, which is legally headquartered in Singapore and which is pursuing Qualcomm — and has assiduously courted Mr. Trump.)

• Domestic companies looking to merge in contested situations, despite having unofficial support from the president. (Think Disney and Fox, whose proposed transaction raised antitrust concerns but garnered praise from Mr. Trump.)

• American companies looking to do business in China, who may now face retaliatory blowback.

Critics’ corner

• Lex writes, “With the demise of this payments merger, any Chinese company wanting to buy anything of significance in the U.S. should give up.” (Lex)

• Richard Beales writes, “If it’s a rebuke, it’s one that’s conveniently unlikely to provoke great resentment.” (Breakingviews)

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Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin (@andrewrsorkin) in New York, and Michael J. de la Merced (@m_delamerced) and Amie Tsang (@amietsang) in London.

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So far, S. & P. futures appear little moved by the latest exchange between the U.S. and North Korea. Diplomats and lawmakers seemed alarmed.

Where Bitcoin traded early yesterday: $13,833

Where Bitcoin is trading this morning: $15,202

What happened: It was probably the revelation that the venture capitalist Peter Thiel has made a big bet on the digital currency.

From Rob Copeland of the WSJ:

Has Founders Fund made money? The WSJ reports, citing unidentified sources, that the firm bought about $15 million in Bitcoin and that its stake is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Bitcoin flyaround

• John O’Rourke, the head of Riot Blockchain, a small biotech-turned-digital currency company, has made at least $712,000 on price increase of more than 60 percent after the company added blockchain to its name. (CNBC)

• The penny-stock company TGI Solar Power Group enjoyed a surge in its stock price (though not quite what Long Blockchain, nee Long Island Iced Tea, experienced last month) after it announced a move into digital currencies. Its stock went as high as 0.2 cent. (Bloomberg)

• Speaking of Long Blockchain, the company has added two new board members as part of its pivot from cold beverages to cryptocurrency. (WSJ)

• Criminals are turning to a new breed of virtual currency, because Bitcoin’s underlying technology can work against them. (Bloomberg)

It isn’t just the fact that Mitt Romney, a sometimes vociferous critic of the president, is expected to run for Mr. Hatch’s Senate seat. It’s that another Republican lawmaker who has been relatively friendly to Mr. Trump is stepping down before the 2018 midterm elections — which could whittle down the G.O.P.’s control of Congress.

More from Jonathan Martin of the NYT:

He’s running, probably: While Mr. Romney didn’t issue a statement on his potential candidacy, he did change his location on Twitter from “Massachusetts” to “Holladay, Utah.”

Also worth noting

The Washington flyaround

• Republican and Democratic lawmakers will meet today with White House officials to try and reach a spending deal before Jan. 19 — or face a government shutdown. (NYT)

• The founders of the research firm Fusion GPS, which has been at the heart of the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, criticized Republican attacks on those inquiries in an NYT Op-Ed. (NYT)

• American Airlines and Southwest Airlines joined the tide of companies offering employees $1,000 bonuses. (Bloomberg)

• BP said it would take a roughly $1.5 billion accounting charge for its latest quarter because of the tax overhaul. (WSJ)

• Jack Lew, the former Treasury secretary, described the tax overhaul as a “ticking time bomb” and asserted that it could leave the U.S. broke. (Bloomberg)

• Michele Bachmann, the former Minnesota congresswoman and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, said she was considering running for Al Franken’s Senate seat. (Axios)

• Vice Media placed its president, Andrew Creighton, and its chief digital officer, Mike Germano, on leave after the NYT reported on sexual harassment allegations against them. (NYT)

• The Showtime political documentary series “The Circus” will return in April without its most recognizable star, Mark Halperin, whose career was felled by allegations of sexual harassment and assault. He will be replaced by the CBS News anchor Alex Wagner and the political analyst Mark McKinnon. (NYT)

• Pete Wells asks who can clean up the restaurant industry and wonders when prominent restaurant figures will admit that the way the industry treats women has damaged careers and lives. (NYT)

Oil is at its highest level since 2015, edging up this morning toward $67 a barrel. Geopolitical risks, like protests in Iran, have prompted buying, while production curbs by OPEC members have tightened supply.

That rise is expected to continue.

More from David Sheppard of the FT:

Blackstone’s Byron Wien reckons that “populism, tribalism and anarchy” could push oil above $80 a barrel this year.

The hedge fund’s latest victory: Alexion Pharmaceuticals said that it would work with the activist investor on finding a new director for its board.

From a statement by David Brennan, Alexion’s chairman:

The context: Michael broke the news last month that Elliott had built up a stake in the drug maker and was weighing a proxy fight if the company didn’t change elements of its business strategy.

The broader landscape: For companies under pressure from activists, resistance requires deft maneuvering, according to Breakingviews. Procter & Gamble’s expensive, hard-line defense against Nelson Peltz failed, but both G.M. and Automatic Data Processing have shown that fending off hedge funds is possible.

— Bloomberg, describing how SoftBank’s relatively modest market value reflects continued skepticism of Masayoshi Son.

• Amazon could buy Target this year, the tech analyst Gene Munster predicted. (Loup Ventures)

• Wixen Music Publishing, which manages songs by Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks, is suing Spotify for $1.6 billion, saying the streaming service used thousands of songs without a proper license. (Variety)

• A young man with life-threatening cancer was granted a wish to go anywhere or meet anyone. He chose to meet JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon. (Business Insider)

• Big deals are poised to return in 2018, but they may not fit so neatly into industry or sector categories. (Bloomberg)

• In the final weeks of 2017, business loan growth fell to its lowest levels since the aftermath of the financial crisis, a change that could weigh on bank earnings this month. (WSJ)

• Snapchat’s New Year’s Eve party was meant to be an “offline” experience, so the company blocked snaps coming from the venue. Employees took to Instagram instead. (The Daily Beast)

• Airbnb defeated a lawsuit brought by Apartment Investment & Management, which accused the home-renting marketplace of enabling tenants to break their lease agreements through unauthorized sublets. (Bloomberg)

• Lyft has teamed up with the self-driving software company Apriv and will be showing off a fully-automated ride-hailing service at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month. (Bloomberg)

• Michael Gelband, the former head of credit at Millennium Management, plans to start his own hedge fund in the next six months, after resolving a hiring dispute with Millennium’s founder, Izzy Englander. (Bloomberg)

• China is suspending the production of more than 500 car models that do not meet its fuel economy standards as part of efforts to reduce emissions in the world’s largest auto market. (NYT)

• The practice of putting nursing homes and related businesses in separate limited liability corporations and partnerships has gained popularity as the industry has consolidated, making it harder to hold owners personally responsible if something goes wrong. (NYT)

• The pharmaceutical industry may be under attack over drug prices, but the problem has splintered and made it difficult to identify who is responsible. Meanwhile, Scott Gottlieb, the F.D.A. commissioner, has been following through on the president’s fiery rhetoric about rising drug prices. (WaPo, Bloomberg)

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