Jack Ma Doubles Down on Alibaba

Tsai has bought about $151 million worth of Alibaba’s U.S.-traded shares in the fourth quarter, via his Blue Pool Management family investment vehicle, a securities filing confirmed on Tuesday. Ma, who stepped down as the company’s executive chairman in 2019 but remains a major shareholder, bought $50 million worth of Hong Kong-traded stock in the quarter, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. (Both men already hold sizable amounts of Alibaba stock.)

The purchase sizes aren’t huge — Alibaba’s market capitalization is about $171 billion — but given who is buying, they are likely to be closely followed by investors and policymakers. Alibaba itself bought back $9.5 billion worth of stock last year, reducing its share count by over 3 percent.

Alibaba has had a tough time in recent years. The company and Ant were among the first to be hit by a broader crackdown on the tech industry that wiped out roughly $1.1 trillion in market capitalization from the sector. In 2020, Ant was forced to call off its potentially record-breaking I.P.O., a stunning move that was widely interpreted as regulators reasserting dominance over private enterprise. Chinese officials later imposed a $2.8 billion antitrust fine on Alibaba.

Last year, Alibaba canceled efforts to spin off its cloud business, a key part of the company’s ambitious plan to overhaul itself, leading to a sharp sell-off in its shares. Executives blamed American efforts to restrict semiconductor sales to China, though analysts say the cloud business has also been losing market share to state-backed rivals.

The stock purchases will probably bring attention back to Ma, a former English teacher who helped start Alibaba as an e-commerce platform. He had been celebrated in China as an icon of entrepreneurship, but Beijing turned on him for criticizing official policy. Ma, who hasn’t held a management role at Alibaba or Ant in years but remains a lifetime partner in the Alibaba Partnership, now largely focuses on Bill Gates-style philanthropy.

Tsai, on the other hand, has retained a high profile. A former corporate lawyer who also helped found Alibaba, he owns the N.B.A.’s Brooklyn Nets and the W.N.B.A.’s New York Liberty.

For those who track Ma, he was seen attending a Nets game in Paris this month and was seen sitting next to Tsai and Tsai’s wife, wearing — what else? — a Nets jersey and cap.

New Hampshire primary voters head to the polls. Nikki Haley claimed a tiny victory just after midnight, capturing all six votes in the town of Dixville Notch, but faces steep odds of beating an ascendant Donald Trump. The former president’s rise is making some Wall Street C.E.O.s question the wisdom of publicly opposing him.

The Fed’s inspector general clears two former officials of improper trading. A report by the internal watchdog said that Eric Rosengren, the former Boston Fed president, and Robert Kaplan, the former Dallas Fed chief, did not violate any laws or rules with trades they made in 2020, as the central bank moved to shore up markets during the coronavirus pandemic. But Kaplan and Rosengren, who both resigned in 2021, didn’t properly file disclosure forms and created the appearance of a conflict, the report found.

Archer-Daniels-Midland’s stock plunges amid an inquiry into its accounting. Shares in the agriculture giant tumbled a record 24 percent on Monday after the company suspended its chief financial officer, Vikram Luthar, and cut its earnings forecast after receiving a document request by the S.E.C. The company is investigating accounting practices in its nutrition unit.

The chairman of Netflix’s film division is leaving. Scott Stuber, who helped make the streaming company a force in filmmaking by attracting directors like Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Jane Campion is stepping down, the company said on the eve of Academy Award nominations. Stuber often clashed with Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-C.E.O. The appointment of Bela Bajaria as chief content officer last year effectively put a management layer between Stuber and Sarandos.

Stocks are in record territory, interest rates are expected to fall, jobs seem plentiful — but none of that strong economic data is bolstering President Biden’s standing with voters. Many polls find him trailing the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, in key states.

Now, the White House is sending out the big guns to try to change the narrative.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will head to the Midwest this week to talk up Biden’s economic accomplishments, including the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law. And she’s expected to take swipes at Trump’s economic record as president.

Yellen’s trip comes after a high-profile speech on Monday by Lael Brainard, the president’s top economic adviser, who delivered a rosy view of how the administration’s policies have created jobs in disadvantaged communities.

Americans are feeling better about the economy. But those improved vibes are up from a low in summer 2022, when inflation soared to a 40-year high. Prices have come down in recent months, but economists warn they could tick up again. A top concern: Attacks by the Houthi militia on commercial vessels in the Red Sea are pushing up shipping prices, which could make goods and fuel more expensive.

The stronger data is not translating into more support for Biden. Voters may look past job gains and pay little heed to the U.S. economy’s growth relative to its biggest trading partners. Instead, they’re likely to focus on what they’re seeing in the shopping aisles. “The fact that the price level is higher than when Biden took office is what voters are picking up,” Ray Fair, an economist at Yale, told The Times.

Fair has been tracking for years how economic data influences voter behavior. Despite the recent uptick in consumer sentiment, his latest model suggested that the Democrats had a 50-50 chance of retaking the White House, and a similar probability for regaining the House. (Those odds are slightly better than what the polls say.)


— Kristi Marvin, the founder of the research firm SPACInsider, on the rising stock price of Digital World Acquisition Corporation, the cash-rich shell company that plans to merge with Donald Trump’s social media platform. Shares in Digital World have more than doubled since Trump won the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15.


Abortion is expected to be a hot-button topic this year, the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, with both Democrats and Republicans planning to use the issue to stir up support during the election campaign.

But despite the noise — or perhaps because of it — don’t expect businesses to speak up on the matter like they have before, experts say.

Companies addressed abortion as an issue in 2022, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. As several states began to introduce abortion restrictions after the decision, hundreds of businesses spoke out in support of continued access, with many pledging additional benefits for workers facing new restrictions.

Behind such moves was a belief that abortion restrictions are bad for business. That position gained support from a recent analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which found that such limitations cost the U.S. an average of $173 billion per year in reduced labor force participation and earnings from women in the private sector, as well as increased turnover and time off from work. That’s up from $146 billion in 2020.

Companies went increasingly quiet on the issue last year, and many pushed back against shareholder proposals on abortion.

An exception: About 50 companies joined a friend-of-the-court filing in a Texas dispute in November, arguing that reproductive rights restrictions were “bad for business” by hurting efforts to recruit top talent and protect employees’ health.

It’s part of a broader pullback by business on public pronouncements, according to Judy Samuelson, the founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program.

Speaking up has become increasingly risky, as conservative politicians take aim at companies for their stances on environmental, social and other cultural issues. (See Disney and its fight with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, for example.)

But Samuelson contended that companies are working on the issue internally. Though much of the work is less buzzy, they are continuing to support measures including improved access to reproductive health care.

Deals

  • Amer Sports, the owner of sports brands including Wilson and Arc’teryx , hopes to raise as much as $1.8 billion, and attain a valuation of up to $8.7 billion, in its I.P.O. (Reuters)

  • The fossil-fuel distributor Sunoco agreed to buy NuStar Energy for about $7.3 billion in stock to expand into storage and pipeline operations. (WSJ)

  • Banks like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are reportedly trying to win back loan customers from private-credit rivals. (Bloomberg)

Policy

Best of the rest

  • Two younger sons of Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH, will reportedly be named to the luxury conglomerate’s board, reviving questions about who will succeed him as C.E.O. (Bloomberg)

  • “The dubious climate gains of turning soil into a carbon sink” (FT)

  • After visiting Auschwitz, Elon Musk said he had been “naïve” about the dangers posed by anti-Jewish sentiment, but added that he had so many Jewish friends that he was “Jewish by association.” (NYT)

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