As usual, political turmoil and central bank action are front and centre of the financial pages.

    Underneath these big macro themes however, there were some eye-catching business stories. 

    First up, serviced office property group WeWork shelved its initial public offering (IPO) after publicly losing the support of SoftBank, the company’s biggest outside shareholder.

    WeCompany, WeWork’s parent, wanted to raise $3bn to $4bn by floating the business on the stockmarket. But Japanese firm SoftBank urged the group to hold back after a cold reception from investors.

    WeWork is a heavily loss-making business, but its ballooning debt and growing losses are matched by its rapid growth.

    By their own admission, the team at WeWork has “disrupted the largest asset class in the world — real estate”.

    They now want to follow the likes of Uber, Lyft and Pinterest by becoming the next ‘unicorn’ to float on the stockmarket.

    But the $15bn to $20bn valuation WeWork is looking for is just a third of what SoftBank thought the office space provider should be worth. When the Japanese group invested $2bn into WeWork during last year’s private funding round, it was valued at $47bn.

    SoftBank has its own reasons to be reluctant; the company is trying to raise cash for other acquisitions.

    But the hesitance is significant. WeWork’s hotly anticipated IPO was expected to be a big test of investor appetite.

    Even compared to its rapidly growing peers, WeWork’s penchant for rapidly burning cash worries investors, as does its reliance on chief executive Adam Neumann.

    With global growth still struggling and central banks opening the liquidity taps again, equity demand for a company like WeWork is a good measure of market sentiment.

    The surprise from Apple

    In other news, Apple announced the iPhone 11.

    There were some significant upgrades announced, but you get the sense, now the launch dust has settled, that the tech giant’s sparkle is fading.

    The new model has no 5G capabilities – despite mobile carriers pumping $160bn into 5G infrastructure over the next few years.

    Apple has been the top dog in smartphones for years, but the lack of 5G and only modest camera upgrades point to a company playing catch-up behind competitors like Samsung and Huawei.

    They offered a surprise $50 cut in the price of the low-end model, suggesting they had overestimated how much consumers would be willing to pay for the latest Apple gizmo.

    Yet the biggest surprise came from the price of its new streaming service Apple TV+.

    Viewers will be able to stream for just $4.99 a month (and get one year free when streaming on an Apple device), undercutting Netflix.

    It follows a similar move by Disney and suggests the two giants are more interested in gaining market share than turning a short-term profit.

    It looks like 2020 will be the year the steaming wars begin, with no less than eight providers on the market – backed by some of the biggest companies in the world.

    As a wider point, this also seems to be another step towards a rented-service economy and away from an economy based on actual ownership. This will no doubt have big implications for the global economy.

    Lastly, there was the stunning surprise Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) bid for the London Stock Exchange (LSE).

    The Hong Kong operator offered £32bn for LSE, claiming the takeover would combine “the largest and most significant financial centres in Asia and Europe”.

    But markets weren't too impressed, and the deal faces hurdles that could well be insurmountable – most of them political.

    Separately, the UK government has referred the shareholder-approved US takeover of defence and aerospace firm Cobham to the Competition and Markets Authority on the grounds of national security.

    This does not bode well for the chances of China, albeit through Hong Kong, owning the UK’s stock exchange.

    As we have seen in the US with moves against Huawei and other large Chinese tech companies, western politicians are becoming increasingly wary of China’s influence, and in particular Beijing’s growing influence in Hong Kong.

    While UK investors are firmly focused on Brexit, such corporate activity shows that despite our insular paralysis, the global economy still functions. 

    As we know, diversification and patience are often more important themes than important ‘at the time’ business headlines.

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