Economy

Israel’s Corporate Defenders Grow Louder

Diplomatic efforts have picked up pace in recent days to avert an escalation of fighting in the Israel-Hamas war.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Schools and businesses feel more heat on Israel

As diplomats try to keep the fighting in the Israel-Hamas war from escalating, some business leaders are continuing to push back against institutions over where they stand on Israel.

Wealthy donors are seeking to punish universities for allowing what they view as a weak response to antisemitism. And technology executives are threatening to withdraw from Web Summit, a prominent European conference scheduled for next month, over comments by the confab’s C.E.O. suggesting that Israel has committed war crimes.

The Huntsman family said it would stop donating to the University of Pennsylvania. It joins a call by Marc Rowan, the C.E.O. of Apollo Global Management and the chairman of the Wharton School’s board of advisers, to withhold support over what they say has been a reluctance to condemn anti-Israel remarks and antisemitism. Jon Huntsman Jr. wrote to Liz Magill, Penn’s president, that what he called the university’s initial silence on the issue “is a new low.” (Yesterday, Magill more forcefully condemned the Hamas attacks as a “terrorist assault,” language that wasn’t used in the first statement following the incursion.)

Ken Griffin joined calls to shun students for pro-Palestinian remarks after the attacks, telling The Times that they were “unforgivable.” The billionaire financier, who has donated over $300 million to Harvard, said he had pressed a senior university official to denounce those who had signed a letter blaming Israel so soon after the attacks. He added that his Citadel hedge fund would never hire such students, echoing remarks by his rival, Bill Ackman.

And Steven Davidoff Solomon, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a former DealBook columnist, urged more law firms not to hire his students “who advocate hate and practice discrimination.”

Other alumni cautioned against punishing students, echoing comments by the likes of the former Treasury secretary Larry Summers. “You have to consider whether the people signing these petitions are 18 years old and very impressionable and don’t know what they are talking about,” Neal Berger, the president of Eagle’s View Capital Management, told The Times.

Some entrepreneurs are taking aim at Web Summit, after its founder, Paddy Cosgrave, posted on X on Friday, “ War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are.”

The comments drew rebuke from prominent tech figures. Adam Singolda, the Israeli-born C.E.O. of the ad company Taboola, and David Marcus, the former Meta and PayPal executive, said they would never work with Web Summit again. (DealBook hears more people set to attend are considering withdrawing.)

Cosgrave posted on X yesterday that “what Hamas did is outrageous and disgusting” but added that while “Israel has a right to defend itself, it does not, as I have already stated, have a right to break international law.” He told DealBook in a statement today, “I want to reiterate my condemnation of the attack that Hamas carried out in Israel last week,” adding, “I am devastated by the loss of life in Israel and Gaza and I hope for peace and reconciliation.”

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

The House enters another week without a speaker. A vote has been set for as soon as tomorrow on a new leader, but huge divisions remain, prolonging Washington’s legislative paralysis. Republicans have nominated Jim Jordan of Ohio as speaker, but dozens from his party remain opposed to him.

A veteran activist investor takes aim at News Corp. Starboard Value, the hedge fund that has previously taken on Salesforce and the parent of Olive Garden, has amassed a stake in Rupert Murdoch’s news publisher, according to The Wall Street Journal. It wants to make big changes including spinning out News Corp.’s digital real estate arm, but the Murdochs’ 40 percent voting stake in the company is a significant hurdle.

A British billionaire nears a minority stake in Manchester United. Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of the chemicals conglomerate Ineos, is negotiating to invest in the English soccer club after a rival bidder, a Qatari sheikh, dropped out, according to The Athletic. His offer for perhaps 25 percent of United could value the club at over $6 billion — but falls short of the full sale that some investors and fans had hoped for.

Taylor Swift breaks records at the box office, too. The mega pop star’s concert film, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” grossed an estimated $95 million to $97 million in North America this weekend in the biggest-ever debut for the genre. (It may even have surpassed “Joker” for biggest October premiere.) Her movie comes at a tough time for theaters, given that many blockbusters have been delayed; Swift herself is expected to have taken home close to $55 million from this weekend’s sales, taking a higher-than-usual percentage of box office revenues.

Donors flock to Biden and Trump

If the early money flowing into the 2024 presidential campaign is any indication, voters are likely to see a Joe Biden-Donald Trump rematch next fall.

Biden led the pack in fund-raising last quarter. The president’s re-election campaign said yesterday that it had raised $71.3 million in the July-September quarter, with help from the Democratic National Committee and a joint fund-raising group. “The fact that we’re sitting with $91 million in the bank today is really an extraordinary advantage,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul and co-chair of Biden’s re-election campaign, told The Times.

Still, the haul falls short of what Trump raised in the same quarter in 2020.

Trump leads the Republican field by a wide margin. With fewer than 100 days until the Iowa caucuses, the former president’s team raised $45.5 million last quarter, three times more than his next closest rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. DeSantis’s campaign is also running perilously low on cash, having spent almost everything it raised last quarter.

Trump’s rivals are pushing big donors who have soured on him. Trump’s support came primarily from small donations, leaving an opening for his Republican rivals to exploit. DeSantis, Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who’s been rising in the polls, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina are among those pitching wealthy Republican donors to back them.

Last week, candidates or their advisers hit up influential conservatives at an event hosted by the Republican financier Harlan Crow. In attendance were Paul Singer, the co-C.E.O. of Elliott Management, and Ken Griffin, the Citadel founder.

Questions are also swirling over which Republican candidates will be able to stay in the race. Mike Pence is running short on money and could be in trouble. The former vice president had a rough fund-raising quarter, amassing just $3.3 million. His campaign had $1.2 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.


Rite Aid files for bankruptcy

Rite Aid, the pharmacy chain that has been weighed down by huge debts, an avalanche of opioid litigation and a wave of store closures, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday. The move comes against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and a rise in corporate bankruptcies this year, as high interest rates squeeze highly indebted firms.

The filing was long anticipated. Rite Aid’s debt load as of June was $3.3 billion. The stock has fallen more than 80 percent in the past year as sales have suffered in the face of stiff competition from the likes of ​​CVS, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Amazon. Two failed mergers, with Walgreens in 2017 and Albertsons in 2018, also made it harder to compete with its bigger rivals.

The company is facing a barrage of federal and local opioid lawsuits. In March, the Justice Department filed a complaint against Rite Aid and various subsidiaries, asserting that the company wrongly filled prescriptions for opioids “that had obvious, and often multiple, red flags indicating misuse.” The company has denied the accusations.

The company appointed Jeffrey Stein, a restructuring expert, as C.E.O. Rite Aid has raised $3.45 billion to fund operations while it is in bankruptcy. But losses have been piling up, and Stein says the company may need to close more stores. Rite Aid said it was working to potentially sell Elixir, the pharmacy benefit manager it bought for $2 billion in 2015, to MedImpact.


“You start with this small plastic brick company, and now you have movies, theme parks, digital — someday it could be as big as Disney.”

David Robertson, a senior lecturer on innovation at MIT Sloan and the author of “Brick by Brick,” highlighting Lego’s rise from toymaker to media brand.


The week ahead

After a strong start to earnings season last week, giants of the S&P 500 are taking center stage. Here’s what to watch for this week.

Tomorrow: Septemberretail sales data will shed light on consumer spending. On the earnings front, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin and United Airlines report.

Elsewhere, Beijing will host leaders from over 140 countries to discuss the next phase of China’s cornerstone belt-and-road foreign policy initiative. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, will attend; few if any Western leaders will.

Wednesday: Speaking of China, the country is set to release third-quarter G.D.P. data, with economists forecasting annualized growth of 4.5 percent, below Beijing’s 5 percent target. ASML, Morgan Stanley, Netflix, Procter & Gamble and Tesla are scheduled to report.

Thursday: Jay Powell, the Fed chair, will speak at the Economic Club of New York. Expect plenty of questions about inflation and interest rates. Elsewhere, American Airlines, AT&T and Blackstone report.

THE SPEED READ

Deals

  • KKR has offered to buy Telecom Italia’s landline network for tens of billions of euros, but the company’s biggest shareholder, Vivendi, has signaled it opposes the bid. (Bloomberg)

  • “Carl Icahn Bet on the ‘Big Short 2.0.’ Now He Says the Game Was Rigged.” (WSJ)

  • Citi prevailed in a lawsuit by an analyst who said he was fired after being accused of improperly expensing meals that he shared with his partner and lying about it. (FT)

Policy

  • Australia fined the social network X for failing to provide information about its efforts to combat child exploitation. (NYT)

  • A growing number of Western risk advisory firms are moving out of Hong Kong as Beijing cracks down on international due-diligence companies operating in China. (WSJ)

  • How Fred Daibes, a New Jersey real estate mogul, became involved in the federal bribery case against Senator Bob Menendez. (NYT)

Best of the rest

  • Tesla investors are pushing the electric vehicle maker to focus on advertising instead of price cuts to win back market share. (CNBC)

  • “How a Fertilizer Shortage Is Spreading Desperate Hunger” (NYT)

  • OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, has quietly changed its publicly stated core values: Out are qualities like being “thoughtful”; in is a focus on artificial general intelligence. (Insider)

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