A grand slam deal
Ari Emanuel’s media colossus Endeavor, whose properties include the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has agreed to buy World Wrestling Entertainment, creating a live event behemoth and cementing its status as a leader in combat sport competitions.
The combination will create a new, publicly traded company that is 51 percent owned by Endeavor, with W.W.E. holding the remaining 49 percent. The new company will be worth more than $21 billion; the all-stock deal values W.W.E. at $9.3 billion and U.F.C. at $12.1 billion. Endeavor’s other units, which include the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, will remain a separate publicly traded company.
The acquisition is the latest big win for Mr. Emanuel, who has become one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood by transforming his talent agency into a multipronged media group. Endeavor wants to tap into the growing demand for live events, which remain a linchpin of cable TV and streaming giants like YouTube, that are acquiring broadcast rights. He will be C.E.O. of the new company and retain the same role at Endeavor.
“Must-watch TV is a rarity these days,” Mark Shapiro, Endeavor’s president, told The Times. “And unicorns like the U.F.C. and W.W.E. will be heavily in demand.”
TV programmers are paying billions of dollars for sports rights. The W.W.E. streams WrestleMania, one of its signature events, on Comcast’s Peacock. The U.F.C. broadcasts matches on Disney’s ESPN+. Both companies also offer their matches on traditional TV, with U.F.C. fights available on a pay-per-view basis and W.W.E. programming broadcast on Fox and NBCUniversal’s U.S.A. channel.
The deal is the latest chapter in a tumultuous career for the W.W.E. chief, Vince McMahon. He took over the company from his father and built it into a television and live-event juggernaut. Mr. McMahon retired last July after The Wall Street Journal reported that the company’s board had been looking into a $3 million settlement he had paid to an employee with whom he had had an affair. But he returned in January as executive chairman to help guide the company through a sale and will retain that role in the new entity.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Donald Trump is expected to arrive in New York on Monday ahead of his arraignment Tuesday in the Stormy Daniels case. Lawyers for the former president said he will plead not guilty, and Trump has spent the days since his indictment relishing being at the center of events, while the city is bracing for a day of tumult.
Oil prices soar on a surprise OPEC Plus production cut. Brent crude was trading near a one-month high this morning after Saudi Arabia, Russia and their oil-producing allies said they would reduce output by roughly 1.2 million barrels per day. The White House criticized the decision, fearing it would lead to higher prices for motorists and a revenue windfall for Russia’s war efforts.
Tesla has a record quarter. The electric vehicle maker delivered nearly 423,000 vehicles in the first three months of the year, a 5 percent year-on-year increase, but slightly below Elon Musk’s own forecast. Tesla faces a number of challenges including rising interest rates, stiff competition from legacy carmakers and Chinese rivals, and the expiration of some tax credits for EV customers.
Disney shareholders gather for a big annual meeting on Monday. Shares in the entertainment giant are up more than 12 percent this year, a strong start to Bob Iger’s second tenure as C.E.O. Layoffs, plus the future of Hulu, ESPN and the company’s streaming business will be in focus for investors.
The market’s winners and losers
Investors shrugged off the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living crisis to fuel a broad-based surge in crypto currencies, tech stocks and sovereign bonds in the first quarter of 2023. But some prominent Wall Street names are sounding the alarm that the rally could stall.
The big winners were technology stocks. Last week, the Nasdaq 100 rocketed into bull market territory even as the sector was hit with a spending slowdown and widespread layoffs. The index of tech heavyweights closed out the quarter more than 21 percent higher as investors bet that the Fed will soon pause interest-rate increases.
The wider Nasdaq gained 17 percent over the same period, its best performance since the second quarter of 2020, when a pandemic-driven pivot to working from home pivot fueled an e-commerce boom.
Crypto led the way. After heavy losses last year following the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX, Bitcoin racked up its best quarterly performance in two years, gaining more than 70 percent, and Ethereum was up more than 50 percent. The astounding rally occurred despite an intensifying legal and regulatory crackdown on some of the sector’s biggest trading firms, including Binance. Analysts think the crypto gains are mainly tied to hopes that the Fed will turn more dovish in the second half of the year.
Banks and energy were the big losers. The turmoil around SVB, America’s regional lenders and Switzerland’s state-brokered emergency sale of Credit Suisse to UBS led to a huge sell-off in bank shares. The KBW Bank Index, which is made up of the top 24 U.S. lenders, fell nearly 18 percent in the quarter. Meanwhile, crude prices fell, dragging down energy stocks.
Recession predictions have not cooled off. Among those predicting an imminent downturn are Jeffrey Gundlach, the billionaire investor and C.E.O. of DoubleLine Capital; Michael Wilson, the prominent equities analyst at Morgan Stanley; and Jeremy Siegel, the economist and professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Another worrying sign: Retail investors, a growing force in the investing community, are pulling back on stock purchases.
Stocks closed out the quarter with volatile daily swings. “The big question now is whether the turmoil from March proves to be an isolated incident, or whether it proves the harbinger of further shocks ahead,” the Deutsche Bank strategists Henry Allen and Jim Reid wrote in an investor note this morning.
More questions over Credit Suisse’s sale
UBS’s $3.2 billion takeover of Credit Suisse last month, brokered by the Swiss government, has already drawn criticism from opposition lawmakers and bond investors. Now, Switzerland’s attorney general, Stefan Blättler, has begun an inquiry into whether laws were broken in the making of the deal.
It’s the latest headache for UBS, Credit Suisse and government officials that has arisen from the fire sale of Credit Suisse, which Swiss politicians have said was necessary to stabilize the country’s banking system.
The inquiry will examine “numerous aspects of the events” around the takeover, according to a statement from Mr. Blättler’s office. His staff has already reached out to government officials and issued “investigation orders.”
It’s unclear what Mr. Blättler will home in on — his office said simply that it is seeking to “contribute to a clean Swiss financial center” — though The Financial Times reports that leaks of sensitive information about the deal to the media is expected to be a focus.
It’s another point of pressure on an increasingly unpopular agreement, with concerns that include the billions in government guarantees given to support UBS, worries that the surviving Swiss lender is now too big to fail and potential hits to the country’s reputation among international investors. Debt investors have also threatened to sue after the Swiss government wiped out $17 billion worth of Credit Suisse bonds while allowing shareholders to receive some compensation.
Government officials have defended the deal, which they pressed UBS into doing over days of frantic negotiations amid the global banking turmoil unleashed by the implosion of Silicon Valley Bank. Alternative approaches, they said, would have taken too long and exposed Swiss taxpayers to more risk.
Swiss lawmakers are scheduled to debate the transaction in a special session of Parliament next week. Meanwhile, a recent poll in Switzerland found a majority opposed the deal, and would have preferred that the government temporarily take over Credit Suisse. A survey of economists last week garnered similar results.
The inquiry is another challenge for UBS as it prepares to digest its longtime archrival — a process that is expected to include a wave of layoffs and the integration of parts of Credit Suisse’s investment bank and wealth management arm. (UBS said last week that it was bringing back its former C.E.O., given the scale of the task.) At the same time, bankers and clients of Credit Suisse are being courted by rival banks seeking to capitalize on the chaos.
Expect the deal to dominate both banks’ annual shareholder meetings this week, especially since investors were denied a vote on the transaction. Credit Suisse’s shareholder gathering is on Tuesday, while UBS’s is scheduled for Wednesday.
“There’s been a marked, a dramatically increased, taking of American hostages, and hostages in general that are journalists.”
— Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and an active campaigner to free American hostages, on the recent wave of Americans jailed overseas on bogus or politicized charges. This weekend, editors and media executives from the world’s biggest news publications condemned Russia’s arrest of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter.
The week ahead
It’s a holiday-shortened week for investors, but there’s still plenty on the calendar, including:
Tuesday: Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, and President Emmanuel Macron of France will travel to China on a joint visit.
Wednesday: Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, is expected to meet the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, in Los Angeles at the end of a 10-day trip to the Americas.
Thursday: Constellation Brands and Levi Strauss report results.
Friday: U.S. and most European markets will be closed for Good Friday, but investors will still be tuning into the U.S. jobs report, scheduled for release at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Economists polled by Reuters forecast that employers made 240,000 hires last month. Wage gains will be the big focus for the markets.
THE SPEED READ
Cineworld, the bankrupt movie theater operator, has reached a deal to emerge from bankruptcy protection by shedding $4.5 billion worth of debt. (Hollywood Reporter)
Companies are increasingly selling off businesses and assets to shore up their balance sheets as the era of cheap debt ends. (Bloomberg)
Meanwhile, Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse is making it harder for banks to sell tens of billions worth of buyout-related debt that they are holding. (WSJ)
Starbucks fired the employee who kicked off a unionization chain at the coffee giant, days after its former chief, Howard Schultz, testified before Congress on labor issues. (CNBC)
EY has reportedly been banned from taking on listed companies in Germany as auditing clients for two years because of its work for Wirecard, the payments group that collapsed following an accounting scandal. (FT, Handelsblatt)
Dan Gertler, the Israeli businessman under U.S. sanctions over accusations that he negotiated more than $1 billion worth of corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has enlisted the country’s president to get those punishments lifted. (NYT)
Best of the rest
Norfolk Southern workers said the railroad’s push for bigger profits led to a sharp jump in accidents in recent years, including the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. (NYT)
“Venice Is Saved! Woe Is Venice.” (NYT)
Why art experts think the market for Picassos is headed for a downturn. (The Economist)
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