DealBook Briefing: Is BlackRock Taking on Berkshire or Blackstone?

Good Thursday morning. BlackRock is reportedly setting its sights on Berkshire Hathaway and the Blackstone Group. Don’t count out more wild rides for the markets. And will Washington pass a long(ish)-term budget deal? Just in: Twitter’s fourth-quarter earnings beat analyst estimates, as revenue grew for the first time in a year; and the Bank of England called for faster rate rises.

BlackRock is already the $6 trillion gorilla of the investing world. But its effort to raise more than $10 billion to buy and hold direct stakes in companies (as reported by the WSJ, citing unnamed sources) could put it more directly in competition with Mr. Fink’s old firm, the Blackstone Group.

BlackRock itself raises a different comparison, according to Sarah Krouse of the WSJ — to Warren Buffett:

BlackRock’s Long-Term Private Capital fund would be a tenth of Berkshire’s $101 billion in cash. But it too would look to buy and hold positions for more than 10 years. Over all, though, this seems more akin to private equity.

The bigger picture: BlackRock is competing against Blackstone and other asset managers for higher-fee investing products. (Mr. Fink’s firm, of course, helped spearhead the rise of low-cost funds.)

Peter Eavis’s take: There’s an old rule. “Beware of money managers saying that they will be like Buffett.”


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


Yesterday wasn’t as wild a ride as Monday or Tuesday. But S. & P. 500 futures are down this morning.

The bigger picture

As President Trump tweeted, “We have so much good (great) news about the economy!” (It was the first time he had weighed in on the stock market moves, our colleagues Michael Shear and Alan Rappeport noted yesterday.) And indeed, analysts and economists said most economic indicators showed the U.S. doing well.

But Greg Ip of the WSJ notes how much the markets now depend on low interest rates.

Meanwhile, Neil Irwin of the Upshot asks, How much inflation can we tolerate? The answer isn’t simple.

A bonus: How millennials coped with the market gyrations.

If the Senate has its way, yes. But critics in the House — where both Nancy Pelosi and hard-line conservatives denounced the proposal — may yet stop it.

What business cares about in the proposal:

• Nearly $300 billion in additional spending over the next two years

• $20 billion for infrastructure spending

• A lifting of the debt ceiling until March 2019

The bigger picture, from Thomas Kaplan of the NYT:

It’s a complete reversal by Republicans on deficit spending.

Elsewhere in Washington: The White House’s staff secretary, Rob Porter, resigned amid allegations of domestic abuse.

Steve Wynn is gone. And Wynn’s shares leapt nearly 9 percent on that news.

But the Massachusetts gaming commission is still investigating the company after sexual misconduct allegations going back decades emerged against the casino mogul. So is Macau, the home of its most profitable business.

The spotlight on Wynn’s board: Our colleague Peter Eavis raised questions about the board’s independence, like why it didn’t suspend Mr. Wynn while it investigated the allegations. The Massachusetts commission also had concerns. Elizabeth Winkler of Heard on the Street thinks the board should go.

Without that crown jewel, the media company may find its digital strategy harder to achieve. (Tronc’s chairman, Michael Ferro, wanted 100 million monthly unique visitors. This sale makes that virtually impossible. And while the deal will let Tronc repay all its debt, it’s also parting with the source of a third of its operating profit, as Lex points out.)

So would someone like Gannett want what remains of Tronc, such as the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun?

More on the LAT’s new owner: Patrick Soon-Shiong made his billions in the generic drug business, but has stayed relatively low-profile. (Other than being sued for stock fraud by Cher, and being the subject of news reports that he donates to hospitals that then do business with his companies.)

More on local news: Farhad Manjoo thinks it can be funded by — get this — readers paying for it.

Buying the chip maker ARM: We get that. But what does Masa Son’s Japanese conglomerate want with Swiss Re, one of the world’s biggest reinsurers?

Maybe it’s cash: $6 billion a year from operations, which could shore up SoftBank’s debt-heavy balance sheet. Or maybe it’s risk diversification.

The details: SoftBank is in talks to buy up to a third of Swiss Re at a premium to its Wednesday closing price.

The deals flyaround

• AT&T plans to spin out the Latin American operations of DirecTV, potentially raising billions of dollars. (WSJ)

• The insurer XL Group, whose market cap yesterday was $9.6 billion, has drawn takeover interest from Allianz and other rivals, unnamed sources say. (Bloomberg)

• The department store operator Hudson’s Bay plans to reject Signa Holding’s $3.7 billion bid for its Kaufhof retail unit in Germany, unnamed sources say. (Reuters)

• Perry Ellis’s former executive chairman has made a $430 million takeover bid for the clothing line. (WSJ)

• Goldman is in advanced talks to buy Clarity, an A.I.-based financial advice start-up, for its Marcus personal-lending unit, unnamed sources say. (Bloomberg)

Around $8,441, according to CoinMarketCap.

• Forbes tried to list virtual currency billionaires — and demonstrated how fleeting that wealth can be. (NYT)

• Meet a new virtual currency skeptic: Jim Yong Kim, the head of the World Bank, who compared digital money to Ponzi schemes. (Bloomberg)

Here are some of Peter Eavis’s takeaways from the carmaker’s fourth-quarter results:

What was OK: Tesla lost $3.04 per share, less than analysts forecast. Its $3.29 billion of revenue in the fourth quarter was roughly in line with expectations.

What disappointed: Tesla’s gross margin in its auto business, which reveals the profitability of actually producing its cars, came in at 13.8 percent, below the “about 15 percent” it forecast when reporting third-quarter results.

The culprit: The Model 3.

Naspers, the South African tech conglomerate, and Meituan, the Chinese e-commerce company, said on Thursday that they were investing $100 million in Swiggy, an Indian food delivery app. (Naspers has done so before.)

The money will help the nearly four-year-old Swiggy build out its tech platform, expand its network and cut its delivery times.

Behind the deal

Food delivery is taking off in emerging markets just as it is in developed ones — but is focused even more on restaurants that make food explicitly for these services.

Naspers Ventures’s chief, Larry Illg, told Michael that lessons from Swiggy’s rise could help it with other investments, like Delivery Hero. “The players tend not to cross borders, but consumer behavior is the same everywhere,” he said.

The tech flyaround

• How Uber and Alphabet went from brothers to bitter enemies. (NYT)

• YouTube’s algorithmic recommendations can lead users to conspiracy theories and misleading videos. (WSJ)

The fast-growing medical records company can use a veteran corporate chieftain, particularly as it seeks to prove it can mature.

“I literally feel like I just scored a decade’s worth of guitar lessons from Elvis,” Jonathan Bush, the company’s founder and C.E.O., told Michael.

The big questions

• Is Mr. Immelt, whose successor at G.E. is trying to turn the company around after years of stagnation, the right man to chair Athenahealth?

• Can a company founder take direction from an outsider?

• Lyft has hired Jon McNeill, most recently Tesla’s president of global sales and service, as its C.O.O. (Axios)

• Scott Garrett, the former Republican lawmaker rejected as a nominee to lead the U.S.’s Export-Import Bank, will join the S.E.C. as an adviser. (WSJ)

Yesterday’s newsletter misspelled the surname of Slack’s C.F.O. He is Allen Shim, not Allen Shin.

• The Justice Department charged 36 people after taking down a credit card crime website responsible for more than $530 million in losses. (Wired)

• China’s economic success lays bare an uncomfortable historical truth: No one who preaches “free trade” really practices it. (NYT)

• Google’s deal for Chelsea Market is the latest example of an internet behemoth expanding its footprint in New York. (NYT)

• Amazon will offer Whole Foods groceries through its Prime Now two-hour delivery service. (CNBC)

• Elizabeth Warren’s office said that the hackers at Equifax gained access to consumers’ passport numbers. The company denies this. (WSJ)

• Tinder has patented its swipe technology and its double opt-in function. (Axios)

• Theresa May is drawing up plans to break from some E.U. regulations, including in financial services, as soon as Britain leaves the bloc, unnamed sources say. (Bloomberg)

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