19/09/2021

Tesla reports a big jump in profit.

Daily Business Briefing

July 27, 2021, 9:59 a.m. ET

July 27, 2021, 9:59 a.m. ET

Credit…Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Tesla on Monday reported a big increase in profit for the three months ending in June because it sold more than twice as many cars in the period as it did a year earlier.

The company said it made $1.1 billion, or $1.02 a share, in the second quarter, up from $104 million in the same period a year earlier. It reported revenue of $12 billion, up from $6 billion.

Tesla sold more than 200,000 electric cars in the quarter, up from about 91,000 a year earlier, when the coronavirus pandemic slowed sales and production for all automakers. Tesla sold 185,000 cars in the first quarter of 2021.

“Public sentiment around E.V.s is at an inflection point,” Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, said Monday on a conference call, referring to electric vehicles. “I think everyone agrees at this point that E.V.s are the way forward.”

A significant portion of Tesla’s profit comes from selling regulatory credits to other automakers that need them to meet emissions standards. In the second quarter, it took in $354 million from the sale of credits. That compares with $428 million in the second quarter of 2020.

“The delivery numbers are good, but a third of the profits still come from selling credits, profits that will continue to decline, not grow,” said Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan who follows the auto industry. “The company is benefiting from its head start in E.V.s on the big car companies. As the competition ramps up, life will get tougher.”

Tesla has increased sales despite the shortage of computer chips, which serve as the brains for a variety of electronics, including engine controllers and touch screens. General Motors, Ford Motor and other manufacturers have had to idle plants because of the shortage.

Mr. Musk has said the company has managed well during the shortage by switching to the kinds of chips that are more readily available and writing new instructions to be embedded in the chips — known as firmware.

But on Monday he said that the company’s growth would be affected by the shortage and that the company had had to idle some production because it could not get enough parts to make cars. “The chip is the governing factor in our output,” Mr. Musk said. “This is out of our control. It seems like it is getting better but it is hard to predict.”

Last month, he said on Twitter that the “fear of running out” of parts was compelling automakers to order more components than they needed, likening it to the hoarding of toilet paper by many Americans in the early months of the pandemic last year.

The earnings report comes as Tesla is trying to lay the ground work for a new phase of growth. It is building new factories in Austin, Texas, and near Berlin, and is getting ready to sell the Cybertruck, an angular pickup truck aimed at luxury car buyers. It is also trying to finish developing a long-delayed semi truck. Mr. Musk had once forecast it would be in production by 2019.

In its statement, Tesla said it expected to start making the Model Y, its most popular vehicle, in Austin and Berlin by the end of the year, but it said production of the semi truck would be delayed until 2022 because of limited supply of batteries. It said the Cybertruck would go into production in Austin after the Model Y but did not say when that would happen.

Tesla said its cash holdings of $16 billion were enough to fund its plans. The company said it still believed that sales would grow 50 percent a year on average for the next several years.

The company is also contending with increasing competition from established and start-up automakers that are introducing electric cars. This year Ford started selling the Mustang Mach E, an electric sport utility vehicle that has sold well and taken market share from Tesla. Volkswagen has starting selling an ID.4, another S.U.V. Rivian, a start-up that has drawn billions of dollars in backing from Ford, Amazon and other investors, is expected to start delivering an electric pickup and S.U.V. in September.

On Monday, another start-up, Lucid Motors, became a publicly traded company by completing a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. Its stock closed up about 6 percent on Monday.

Lucid is headed by a former Tesla engineer, Peter Rawlinson. The company is taking a similar approach to Tesla by first selling a pricey luxury sedan, and following up with more affordable models. Mr. Rawlinson has said Lucid has made technological advances that will allow its car, the Lucid Air, to travel about 500 miles on a full charge, about 100 miles more than the Tesla Model S.

Chevron has asserted that Steven Donziger and his associates engaged in a fraudulent conspiracy and other criminal conduct.
Credit…Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

A lawyer who for decades has challenged Chevron on environmental grounds was found guilty of criminal contempt of court by a federal judge on Monday for disobeying court orders.

The lawyer, Steven Donziger, who had already been disbarred and has spent roughly two years in home confinement in Manhattan, said he would appeal.

The ruling is the latest episode in a long legal battle over the alleged dumping of oil in the Amazon region of Ecuador from the 1960s to the 1990s by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001. An Ecuadorean court ruled in favor of the Indigenous people in 2011 and ordered Chevron to pay $19 billion in damages, a penalty later reduced by a higher court to $9.5 billion. Mr. Donzinger was one of the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in that case.

Chevron refused to pay. Three years later, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled in favor of Chevron in a civil case the company filed against Mr. Donziger and his litigation team. The company asserted that Mr. Donziger and his associates had engaged in a fraudulent conspiracy and other criminal conduct, including ghostwriting an environmental report that was supposed to be by an independent expert and bribing an Ecuadorean judge.

Judge Kaplan later found that Mr. Donziger did not abide by an order to turn over his electronic devices and that he had continued to try to profit from the original suit against Chevron. Mr. Donziger has disputed Judge Kaplan’s ruling, even after it was upheld in an appeals court. He said giving up his electronic devices would jeopardize the interests of his clients.

“At stake here is the fundamental principle that a party to a legal action must abide by court orders or risk criminal sanctions no matter how fervently he believes in the righteousness of his cause or how much he detests his adversary,” Judge Loretta A. Preska of Federal District Court in Manhattan wrote in the Monday decision against Mr. Donzinger.

Martin Garbus, a lawyer for Mr. Donziger, said he expected the decision would be reversed on appeal. Judge Preska “is attempting to justify what cannot be justified,” he said in a statement.

Lordstown Motors workers in June at the company’s factory in Ohio.
Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Lordstown Motors, a struggling electric pickup truck company, said Monday that it had reached a deal with an investment firm to raise $400 million over three years.

The investment firm, Yorkville Advisors, has agreed to buy up to $400 million of Lordstown’s shares, which would provide badly needed cash to a company that this summer said it could go out of business without raising more money.

The deal is potentially quite lucrative to Yorkville because it will buy the stock for at least $7.48 a share, the closing price on Friday. If Lordstown stock rises, the hedge fund stands to make a profit.

Yorkville agreed that it would not bet against Lordstown’s stock. Lordstown also agreed to give Yorkville 371,000 shares, which are worth nearly $3 million based on the current stock price, for agreeing to the deal.

Once hailed by former President Donald J. Trump as a savior of manufacturing jobs in Ohio, Lordstown has struggled to produce vehicles while spending hundreds of millions of dollars. The company is also being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department.

Lordstown, which acquired a former General Motors factory in Lordstown, Ohio, went public in October by merging with DiamondPeak Holdings, a special purpose acquisition company led by a wealthy Wall Street real estate investor.

SPACs raise money by selling stock before they have any assets, and then go shopping for a business. They offer the companies they merge with a way to list on the stock market with less disclosure and scrutiny than is typical in an initial public offering.

The S.E.C. is investigating whether the company and its founder, Steve Burns, who resigned as chief executive in June, overstated claims about interest from commercial buyers in its electric truck, the Endurance. Federal prosecutors are also investigating the company’s preorder claims and its merger with DiamondPeak.

The company, which has beefed up its public relations operation in recent weeks, is being represented by lawyers from Sullivan & Cromwell, a big New York law firm, in connection with the investigations. Mr. Burns has hired two lawyers from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, another big New York firm.

Yorkville, which specializes in investing in small companies, is not without its own controversy. In 2012, the S.E.C. accused the firm of misvaluing its assets to hide losses from investors. But in 2018, a federal judge dealt a big blow to the S.E.C. by dismissing most of the civil fraud claims against Yorkville. Regulators and Yorkville ultimately agreed to dismiss the matter.

Lordstown’s stock price has tumbled from a peak of almost $31 in February and is now trading at less than the $10 price that DiamondPeak sold shares at during its initial public offering. The stock was down 2.5 percent at the close of trading on Monday.

Two of the world’s largest insurance brokers, Aon and Willis Towers Watson, announced that they had called off a planned $30 billion merger.
Credit…Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Two of the world’s largest insurance brokers, Aon and Willis Towers Watson, announced on Monday that they had called off a planned $30 billion merger, just a little more than a month after the Department of Justice sued to block the union.

The announcement was a victory for the Biden administration. The case against the proposed merger was the first big trustbusting move by the administration, which has signaled a willingness to be tough on corporate consolidation.

President Biden signed a sweeping executive order to address competition in industries as diverse as tech, railroads, and meat and poultry. And last week, he named Jonathan Kanter, an antitrust lawyer who has spent much of his career fighting Big Tech, to run the Justice Department’s antitrust division. Mr. Biden has also named other critics of Big Tech to prominent roles, such as Lina Khan to lead the Federal Trade Commission, and Tim Wu to an economic policy role at the White House.

But the White House has faced setbacks in its push to rein in the power of technology giants. Last month, a federal judge threw out an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook brought by the F.T.C. The agency was given 30 days to amend and refile its lawsuit, and on Friday, it asked for a three-week extension, to Aug. 19, which the judge has granted.

On Monday, Aon and Willis Towers Watson said they had decided to end the Justice Department’s litigation rather than face a lengthy court battle.

“We reached an impasse with the U.S. Department of Justice,” Aon’s chief executive, Greg Case, said in a statement.

“This is a victory for competition and for American businesses, and ultimately, for their customers, employees and retirees across the country,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.

The merger, first proposed in March 2020, faced scrutiny from regulators around the world. Some, including officials in the European Union, granted conditional approval based on various concessions and divestments.

But the Justice Department’s lawsuit was not scheduled to head to trial until at least November, which would have postponed the deal until the first quarter of 2022 at the earliest, a delay that was untenable for Aon, a company spokesman told The New York Times.

The government’s complaint argued that the combined companies would “eliminate substantial head-to-head competition and likely lead to higher prices and less innovation.” It said the companies dominated markets for risk and reinsurance brokering, health and pension benefits brokering, actuarial services for employer benefit programs and private exchanges that offer retiree benefits.

The government said previously that the companies were aware they already operated in an oligopoly. “If permitted to merge, Aon and Willis Towers Watson could use their increased leverage to raise prices and reduce the quality of products relied on by thousands of American businesses — and their customers, employees and retirees,” the Department of Justice wrote last month.

Aon argued that the government misunderstood its businesses. “We are confident that the combination would have accelerated our shared ability to innovate on behalf of clients, but the inability to secure an expedited resolution of the litigation brought us to this point,” Mr. Case said in the statement.

The decision to abandon the deal “highlights one of the possible implications of more aggressive enforcement” as Mr. Biden makes good on campaign promises to be tough on companies, said A. Douglas Melamed, a law professor at Stanford University and former acting chief of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division.

The F.T.C. and the Justice Department are likely to look for ways to have an impact without being subject to judicial review, Mr. Melamed said, and one way to do that is by challenging mergers in general, whether or not a case has a good chance of winning.

“The risk and time delays of a merger challenge often cause the parties to abandon a deal even if the government’s case is weak,” he said.

The decision to block the merger sends a clear signal that the White House is willing to take a stronger stand on competition than the Trump administration, which reviewed the deal but did not take steps to fight it.

The firm stance also involves more trans-Atlantic cooperation between American and European regulators. For instance, after the European Union in April challenged the $8 billion merger of the life sciences companies Illumina and Grail, the F.T.C. announced that it was dropping a request in federal court to block the deal, a strategy that helps preserve agency resources. And European antitrust officials have said they expect more cooperation as the two governments’ perspectives increasingly align.

With the merger between the insurance brokers terminated, a slew of contingent deals will be called off, too. Some of the regulatory approvals that the combined companies received, for example in South Africa and the European Union, were dependent on Aon and Willis getting rid of some business units.

Aon said it would pay a $1 billion termination fee to Willis Towers Watson.

Both companies are incorporated in Ireland and have headquarters in London. Aon, which reported revenue of more than $11 billion last year, has around 50,000 employees around the world and more 100 offices in the United States. Willis Towers Watson employs about 45,000 people globally, with more than 80 offices in the United States. It reported revenue of more than $9 billion in 2020.

A Beijing outlet of New Oriental Education and Technology, an educational services firm. Many middle-class families in China pay for after-school tutoring to help their children gain an edge in national tests.
Credit…Tingshu Wang/Reuters

Chinese regulators barred tutoring companies from making profits, a move that sent their shares plummeting on Monday, erasing tens of billions of dollars from the value of the country’s once blistering education sector, as Beijing turns its focus to the growing financial burden that students — and their parents — face.

Some of China’s biggest publicly listed education companies lost significant chunks of their value as investors ditched them after the announcement of rules that require all companies that offer curriculum tutoring to register as nonprofit institutions.

The rules, which were published over the weekend, will also restrict new foreign investment, once a key avenue for those companies to raise money. They are the latest in a series of moves by China to rein in its technology sector that has hit stocks of its biggest companies, in sectors as diverse as ride hailing and music licensing. Regulators say they are tackling privacy, cybersecurity and antitrust concerns, directing their crackdown at the country’s thriving internet industry.

Koolearn Technology, which provides online classes and test-preparation courses, said it expected the rules to “have material adverse impact” on its business. Its stock lost 33 percent on Monday. A handful of other Hong Kong-listed education companies, including New Oriental Education & Technology and Scholar Education Group, along with the U.S.-listed companies Gaotu Techedu and TAL, issued similar statements.

For years, China’s private education sector was one of the most enticing for global investors, who threw billions of dollars at publicly listed companies that promised to capitalize on the hundreds of thousands of families striving for better opportunities through education. By Monday evening in Asia, much of that money had vanished.

Many middle-class families in China pay for after-school tutoring to help their children gain an edge in national tests that determine their futures. Last week, the country’s top administrative body published an opinion that took aim at the sector and outlined its plans to “reduce the burden of students’ homework and off-campus training.”

Analysts swiftly recalibrated their assessment of the prospects for the industry, which was once valued at more than $100 billion by Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs. On Monday, the bank’s analysts estimated it would be worth $24 billion in the coming years.

The news reverberated through Chinese stock indexes. The Shanghai Composite index closed 2.3 percent lower, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 4.1 percent.

Separately, regulators over the weekend ordered Tencent, the Chinese tech conglomerate, to end all exclusive music licensing deals with record labels and fined it around $78,000 for what it said were unfair practices. Shares in Tencent Music, which trades in the United States, were also lower on Monday.

U.S. stocks rose further into record territory on Monday at the start of a week loaded with company earnings reports from big tech companies and another meeting of the Federal Reserve’s policy committee.

Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are scheduled to update investors on their financial performance. Last week, Twitter and Snap reported big jumps in ad sales.

The Fed is holding a two-day meeting starting on Tuesday during which policymaker are expected to start discussing if and when to start winding down the central bank’s emergency bond-buying measures.

Markets in Hong Kong and China plunged amid Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on fast-growing companies.

Chinese regulators on Monday banned tutoring companies from making profits, erasing tens of billions of dollars from the value of the country’s once-blistering education sector. The rules are the latest in a series of moves by China to rein in its technology sector. The moves have hit stocks of China’s biggest companies, in sectors as diverse as ride hailing and music licensing.

  • The Shanghai Composite index closed 2.3 percent lower, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 4.1 percent.

  • In New York, New Oriental Education & Technology fell 34 percent, while TAL Education dropped about 27 percent.

  • The S&P 500 ticked up 0.2.

  • Markets in Europe were quiet, with the Stoxx Europe 600 closing slightly lower.

An internal spying scandal rocked Credit Suisse in 2019 and 2020, causing the resignation of the chief executive and chief operating officer.
Credit…Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Credit Suisse has settled with a former high-ranking executive who had accused the Swiss bank of spying on him, claims that eventually led to the ouster of the firm’s chief executive.

What began in 2019 with a public argument between Iqbal Khan, a wealth-management banker who had recently defected to UBS, and a corporate spy exploded into a rapidly escalating scandal. Credit Suisse’s then-chief operating officer, Pierre-Olivier Bouée, resigned after he was accused of ordering the surveillance of former colleagues.

The scandal culminated in early 2020 with the resignation of the bank’s chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, who had pledged to overhaul the controversy-prone Swiss bank. Mr. Thiam denied knowledge of the espionage operation.

A spokeswoman for Credit Suisse, Simone Meier, said in a statement on Monday that the bank had resolved Mr. Khan’s complaint against the corporate investigators that the bank had hired.

“All involved parties have agreed to settle,” Ms. Meier said. “This matter is now closed.”

An investigation into the matter by the Swiss financial regulator, known as Finma, is continuing, a spokesman for the agency said.

The settlement was first reported by NZZ am Sontag, a Swiss news outlet.

The espionage debacle is not the only controversy that has been dogging Credit Suisse of late. The bank is still reeling from losses tied to the collapses of Greensill Capital, a British lender to midsize companies, and Archegos Capital Management, an investment firm whose billion-dollar stock bets went south in the spring.

The slew of controversies has clouded the future of Credit Suisse, which has suffered a number of further defections within its investment bank in recent months.

Thomas Barrack, the former chief executive of Colony Capital, was ordered to post a $250 million bond, one of the highest in history.
Credit…Henry Romero/Reuters

Thomas J. Barrack Jr., the founder and former chief executive of Colony Capital, is set to appear in federal court in New York on Monday to face charges of failing to register as a foreign lobbyist, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators. A judge last week ordered Mr. Barrack, a friend and fund-raiser for former President Donald J. Trump, to post a $250 million bond, one of the highest in history, to secure his limited freedom.

The DealBook newsletter asks: How did he raise so much money so quickly?

The bond is partly backed by about $150 million in stock in DigitalBridge, as Colony is now known, a Justice Department representative confirmed to DealBook. (That’s about 5 percent of the company’s shares.) Mr. Barrack also offered $5 million in cash, being held by his lawyer, and several properties. Mr. Barrack agreed with DigitalBridge that his stock could not be sold, transferred or encumbered while he’s free on bail. The company declined to comment.

That exposes the government to swings in the value of the shares, and possibly ownership in the investment firm. One entity that the government won’t be taking a stake in is Mr. Barrack’s special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, which pulled its registration last week.

Critics of the cash bail system say that it favors wealthier defendants, keeping poor people in jail awaiting trial and disproportionately affecting Black and Latino defendants. This year, Illinois became the first state to eliminate cash bail, a move that Gov. J.B. Pritzker said was a step toward “dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities.” Other states, like California, New Jersey and New York, have limited the use of bail in recent years.

Mr. Barrack’s bail, and other high-value bonds that came before it, highlight the disparity. Prosecutors sought $250 million from the junk-bond mogul Michael R. Milken in 1989 (worth well over $500 million in today’s money), but the judge demanded $1 million for his freedom. He posted cash and securities. (He was also required to set aside $700 million for restitution funds if prosecutors won.) During his prosecution in 2008, Bernard L. Madoff couldn’t find the four co-signers required for his $10 million bond, and struck a deal to post properties with just his wife and brother co-signing.

  • Tesla earnings: How has the electric carmaker fared, with a hot car market but also a global shortage of computer chips that has hampered auto production?

  • Economic outlook: The International Monetary Fund is set to publish its global growth forecast for the year in its World Economic Outlook report. The fund’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, has said the global growth estimate for 2021 will be about 6 percent, which was the forecast in April.

  • Boeing earnings: The aircraft maker has had to slow production of its 787 Dreamliner model amid quality concerns and lost a record amount of money in 2020. Can the airline recovery help it return to profitability?

  • Big Tech earnings: Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft will report their financial results. Last week, Twitter and Snap reported big jumps in ad sales. Ad-heavy Google, which Alphabet owns, is expected to report the same outcome.

  • Starbucks earnings: The chain has been hit by shortages of several ingredients, including juices and breakfast foods, and even supplies like cups, lids and straws.

  • The Fed meets: The Federal Open Market Committee will decide, after talks on Tuesday and Wednesday, whether to raise interest rates. The chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, has acknowledged that inflation has increased “notably.”

  • U.S. economy: The gross domestic product for the second quarter is expected to show a strong gain. Some analysts expect double-digit growth, but the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, which has been lowering its forecast over the past month, expects 7.6 percent.

  • Amazon earnings: Last week, the company’s recently departed chief executive, Jeff Bezos, became the second billionaire rocket company founder to go to the edge of space.

  • Robinhood I.P.O.: The stock trading app is set to begin trading on Nasdaq by the end of the week. Robinhood’s unusual plan is set to sell up to a third of its shares directly to its customers through its app, but that could cause volatility.

  • Eviction ban: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide ban on evictions will expire. Many renters are behind on payments, and the time to apply for emergency rental assistance is running out. Additionally, the rollout of federal aid for landlords and tenants has been slow.

“We went from being pirates to being the Navy,” said Marc Andreessen. “People may love pirates when they’re young and small and scrappy, but nobody likes a Navy that acts like a pirate.”
Credit…Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Even as 609,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and the Delta variant surges, as restaurants and other businesses shut down and as millions of workers found themselves unemployed, the tech industry flourished in the pandemic.

The combined stock market valuation of Apple, Alphabet, Nvidia, Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook increased by about 70 percent to more than $10 trillion. That is roughly the size of the entire U.S. stock market in 2002. Apple alone has enough cash in its coffers to give $600 to every person in the United States. And in the next week, the big tech companies are expected to report earnings that will eclipse all previous windfalls.

Silicon Valley, the world headquarters for tech start-ups, has never seen so much loot, reports The New York Times’s David Streitfeld. More Valley companies went public in 2020 than in 2019, and they raised twice as much money when they did. Forbes calculates there are now 365 billionaires whose fortunes derive from tech, up from 241 before the virus.

Tech is triumphant in a way that even its most evangelical leaders couldn’t have predicted. No single industry has ever had such power over American life, dominating how we communicate, shop, learn about the world and seek distraction and joy.

“Call it half luck — being in the right place at the right time — and half strategic tactics by companies recognizing this was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Dan Ives, a managing director at Wedbush Securities. “What for most industries were hurricane-like headwinds was a pot of gold for tech.”

But any measures restricting tech will need public sentiment behind them to succeed. Even some of tech’s biggest supporters see the potential for worry here.

“We went from being pirates to being the Navy,” Marc Andreessen, a central figure in Silicon Valley for a quarter-century, told the Substack writer Noah Smith in a recent interview. “People may love pirates when they’re young and small and scrappy, but nobody likes a Navy that acts like a pirate. And today’s technology industry can come across a lot like a Navy that acts like a pirate.”

The Federal Trade Commission on Friday asked a federal judge to give it more time to refile an antitrust suit against Facebook that is the agency’s biggest test in reining in the power of big tech.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the agency asked for a three-week extension, or until Aug. 19, to amend a lawsuit that the court dismissed last month. The F.T.C. said in its request that it had reached an agreement with Facebook over the proposed extension.

Last month, Judge James E. Boasberg of the federal court knocked down a core argument made by the F.T.C., saying prosecutors had failed to provide enough persuasive facts to back up the claim — that Facebook holds a monopoly over social networking. But the judge gave the F.T.C. a 30-day window to refile its lawsuit.

The new lawsuit will be the first major action by Lina Khan, the new chair of the F.T.C. and a critic of Facebook, Google and Amazon who has advocated for the breakup of the digital platforms.

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