The big money in pro soccer
While American sports teams have been skyrocketing in valuation — witness the $4.65 billion that the N.F.L.’s Denver Broncos recently sold for — the world’s top soccer clubs are increasingly leaving them in the dust.
At least two bids have been submitted for Manchester United, the English team owned by the Glazer family — and the price for one of the world’s most famous sports clubs appears likely to break records. That news comes as other soccer clubs are reportedly being pursued for billion-dollar price tags, though the American billionaire who owns Liverpool F.C. has called off a sale, for now.
Who’s in for United? By far the splashiest bidder is Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank and the son of a former prime minister of the Gulf state, whose offer is reportedly in the $6 billion (£5 billion) range. He has pledged to spend a fortune on the club, raising the prospect of a financial arms race with its crosstown rival, the U.A.E.-owned Manchester City, and the Saudi-owned Newcastle United.
The other known bidder is Jim Ratcliffe, the industrialist who is Britain’s richest man and a longtime United supporter. In his pitch, he highlights who he isn’t: a Gulf oil magnate.
Wall Street sees an opportunity for riches. Consider the number of American banks involved in the soccer-bidding frenzy: Raine Group — which managed the £2.5 billion sale of Chelsea F.C. last year — is also handling the sale of United. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are advising Ratcliffe, and Bank of America is working with Sheikh Jassim. Elliott Management, the giant U.S. hedge fund, is reportedly offering to help finance any deal.
That shows American financiers are recognizing how much money can be made from the world’s most popular sport, Bloomberg News reports:
“Wall Street has arrived as far as football is concerned,” said David Bick, chairman of Square1 Consulting and a longtime adviser on football club takeovers. “The larger investment banks have realized it’s too big an opportunity to miss out on.”
But a sale isn’t assured. Both Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe must get past rules set by UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, that restrict groups from owning more than one club in the same competition, like the pan-continental Champions League. Ratcliffe already owns the French club OGC Nice, while Sheikh Jassim must convince officials that he has nothing to do with the Qatari interests that own Paris Saint-Germain.
There’s also the matter of winning over the Glazer family. British news media have reported that the American clan, which bought the club in 2005, are seeking $7 billion, which one bidder told The Times would be “madness.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool F.C.’s owner is calling off its sale. The American billionaire John Henry, whose Fenway Sports Group owns the club, told Boston Sports Journal that he’s no longer looking to sell it outright. (Speculative valuations of Liverpool ran to as high as £4 billion.)
Instead, he suggested that Fenway was talking with investors about selling a stake in the club. And he left the door open for a full-on, multibillion-pound sale down the line: “Will we be in England forever? No.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Vladimir Putin breaks further from the West. The Russian president said Moscow was suspending its participation in the New START nuclear arms control treaty and showed no sign of ending his invasion of Ukraine. His comments follow President Biden’s secret trip to Kyiv; Biden is expected to reiterate American support for Ukraine in a speech in Warsaw later today.
Another big earthquake hits Turkey. The roughly 6.4 magnitude temblor struck the same region that was devastated just two weeks ago by the deadliest quake in over 80 years. At least three people were reported dead and hundreds injured, but officials expect those figures to rise.
CNN’s Don Lemon will return to his morning show tomorrow. Comments by the anchor about Nikki Haley, the Republican presidential candidate, and women’s ages set off an uproar last week. CNN’s chairman, Chris Licht, told the staff yesterday that Lemon had agreed to undergo training over his behavior.
United Airlines scraps a booking fee after criticism from President Biden. The airline will roll out a new policy making it easier for families to sit together without charge. Biden had decried so-called “junk fees” in his State of the Union address and pledged to outlaw such costs.
Venture capital fund-raising hits a nine-year low. Venture firms collected $20.6 billion in the fourth quarter, down 65 percent year on year and their lowest amount since 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal. Potential factors include the continued slump in publicly traded tech stocks and belt-tightening amid fear of a recession.
The price of a founder’s exit
The announcement in October that Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of the giant hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, was passing the reins to a new generation of leaders made waves across Wall Street.
But behind the scenes, Dalio’s departure — which followed an uproar over his comments about China’s human-rights record and were accompanied by demands for special stock that could pay him billions in the coming years — caused no small amount of drama for Bridgewater, The Times’s Rob Copeland and Maureen Farrell report.
Dalio’s departure was a long time coming. Bridgewater first rolled out his retirement plans in 2009, but then it churned through a series of potential successors. Dalio himself told employees and investors that he would leave when the right leadership was in place.
Dalio’s China comments became a point of contention. In 2021, he dismissed concerns about the country’s human-rights record and likened Beijing to a “strict parent.” (Among Bridgewater’s clients are companies partly owned by the Chinese government.) Clients and policymakers expressed concern — but Dalio insisted on maintaining control of Bridgewater’s economic newsletter, to avoid having his views on China watered down, The Times reports.
Dalio eventually agreed to give up his titles and become “mentor to the C.I.O.s and investment committee,” while remaining a board member.
But that came at a cost. Dalio received special new shares — dubbed “Ray’s shares” within Bridgewater — that pay him big dividends that could eventually reach billions, The Times reports. On the long list of founders who exact a price to leave, he managed to extract more than most.
Crypto’s eastern push
The global race to become the crypto industry’s hub heated up yesterday when Hong Kong unveiled a plan that would make it easier for retail investors to trade digital tokens. It’s the latest sign that some jurisdictions are seeking to lure crypto businesses even as American regulators crack down on the sector following the collapse of FTX.
Under Hong Kong’s proposed rules, Bitcoin and Ether, the two largest crypto tokens, would be made available to retail traders on licensed exchanges, provided that the platforms make sure their customers have “sufficient knowledge of virtual assets.”
That regulatory loosening is in contrast to what U.S. regulators are doing. Last week alone, the S.E.C. announced three actions involving crypto. Meanwhile, Binance is reportedly considering cutting ties with American business partners, and the lending platform Nexo is leaving the country after reaching a $45 million settlement with the S.E.C. last month.
More companies are threatening to go abroad if the U.S. doesn’t clarify its rules. Brian Armstrong, the C.E.O. of the publicly traded exchange Coinbase, said the “hostile environment” was putting the U.S.’s status as a financial hub at risk, and more crypto companies would look abroad unless a clearer regulatory framework was established quickly. “Congress should act soon to pass clear legislation,” he tweeted. “Crypto is open to everyone in the world and others are leading.”
Armstrong and other industry leaders say Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Europe are all angling to become digital asset hubs by creating a friendlier regulatory environment.
In other crypto news:
The crypto-focused hedge fund Galois Capital, which managed about $200 million in assets last year, said it would shut down, citing FTX’s collapse.
Customers of FTX’s exchange in Japan can now withdraw assets that were frozen after its collapse.
FTX’s former head of engineering, Nishad Singh, is reportedly near a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors. He would be the third senior executive to cooperate with authorities investigating the exchange’s collapse.
“The business model of producing in China and exporting abroad is no longer viable.”
— Hideo Tanimoto, president of the Japanese conglomerate Kyocera. He told The Financial Times that U.S. curbs on tech exports to China had made that country less attractive as a manufacturing hub.
The (shorter) week ahead
Markets were closed yesterday for Presidents’ Day, but there are plenty of earnings reports, economic data releases and more for investors to scour in the coming days. Here is what to keep an eye on.
Today: Data on existing home sales for January are expected; the crypto exchange Coinbase reports after market close.
Wednesday: The Fed’s Federal Open Markets Committee publishes minutes from its January meeting, offering more insight into why it raised rates by a quarter point. EBay reports.
Thursday: Initial jobless claims data for last week are due. Alibaba, the online car seller Carvana and Warner Bros. Discovery report.
Friday: Data on personal consumption expenditures are set for release, offering a close look at how quickly inflation is still rising. New home sales data and the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey will also be published.
THE SPEED READ
Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, is meeting with E.U. regulators to defend the tech giant’s proposed $69 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard. (Reuters)
Masa Son, SoftBank’s founder, has pledged about 35 percent of his holdings in the Japanese tech investor as collateral for margin loans. (Bloomberg)
HSBC raised its dividend to the highest level in four years, potentially in response to calls by its largest shareholder, the Chinese insurer Ping An, to break itself up. (FT)
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