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Carbon neutrality will come at a steep price. Here's what Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam said on the topic at the 2020 World Economic Forum.
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The collector car world is racing to London this April for the chance to buy rare and historic Buggati and Aston Martin automobiles that promise to outperform recent sputtering sales.
(Bloomberg) -- Four of the five biggest U.S. technology giants boosted their lobbying spending last year as they battled charges of unfair competition, sought to shape privacy legislation and pursued large government contracts in an increasingly hostile Washington.The five biggest tech companies by market value -- Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc. -- shelled out $62.2 million in 2019, 3% less than what they spent the year before.The overall drop was driven by Alphabet Inc.’s Google. It reported a 44% decline in 2019 spending, to $11.8 million from $21.2 million. The company spent much of last year reshuffling its Washington office, including ending its relationships with more than a dozen lobbyists at six outside firms. It also replaced Susan Molinari, a former Republican House member, with Mark Isakowitz, a onetime GOP Senate aide, to head up its Washington policy shop.The disclosures, which are filed quarterly with Congress, include amounts spent to weigh in on legislation or other pressing matters before Congress, the White House and Executive Branch agencies. The reports were due Tuesday.Existential ThreatsWith their broad portfolios, U.S. tech companies have been worried about everything from Trump’s trade deals to stalled privacy legislation and drone regulations. But perhaps their most existential threats are the antitrust probes.The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are reviewing the biggest internet platforms to determine if they are harming competition. The FTC is scrutinizing Facebook and Amazon, while the Justice Department is investigating Google and is also looking at Facebook.Large coalitions of state attorneys general are likewise considering cases against Facebook and Google.For more: Justice Department Questions Publishers in Ongoing Google ProbeIn addition, the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, led by Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline, has a sprawling inquiry underway. Cicilline has hauled executives before his subcommittee and peppered the companies with exhaustive questions about their business practices.Facebook surged to the front of the pack among the tech behemoths. The social-media company spent $16.7 million last year, its highest-ever yearly spending and up 32% from $12.6 million in 2018. It lobbied on such issues as intellectual property, cybersecurity, privacy, cryptocurrency and election integrity, according to the annual lobbying disclosures.E-commerce giant Amazon was close behind Facebook, upping its spending to a record $16.1 million from $14.2 million. Despite the increase, its public policy shop has experienced a number of high-profile failures. In October, for example, Amazon learned that it lost a $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract to rival Microsoft.Amazon has blamed that loss on presidential meddling. Numerous parts of the “evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias -- and it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified,” the company said in November.It doesn’t help that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and President Donald Trump have been feuding since before Trump was elected and that Bezos owns the Washington Post, which Trump sees as one of his fiercest critics.Apple RecordApple’s $7.4 million lobbying outlay last year was also a record. That amount was up 10% from $6.7 million in 2018. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has had a better working relationship with Trump than have many of his tech rivals. He was among several dozen global tech leaders who attended a breakfast with the president at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.But Cook is also in the hot seat for his company’s refusal to help the FBI unlock an encrypted iPhone used by the Saudi air force student who allegedly killed three people at a Florida naval base.Microsoft, which spent $10.2 million on lobbying last year, up from $9.5 million the year before, has largely avoided the political pitfalls of its peers. Winning the Pentagon’s lucrative cloud contract was a major victory, considering its underdog status. In August, Pentagon vendors also were awarded a contract worth as much as $7.6 billion to provide Microsoft software to the Defense Department.The tech industry has become one of the biggest spenders in Washington. While the amounts pale in comparison with the billions in revenue each company receives and, in some cases now, their trillion-dollar market values, money can buy influence in the nation’s capital.The pharmaceutical industry is often singled out as the lobbying powerhouse of Washington. Its lead trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, typically conducts the lion’s share of the industry’s lobbying; it spent $28.9 million in 2019, up slightly from $27.5 million in 2018.On a company level, the $34.7 million in spending by the five largest U.S. drug makers -- Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Eli Lilly & Co. -- was far less than the $62.2 million in lobby expenses by the five biggest tech companies.Big Tech also beat the biggest spender among the business lobbies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $58.2 million to lobby in 2019.Some of the big checks Facebook, Google and others are writing in Washington are going to lobbying firms and trade groups pushing industry-friendly privacy bills.Privacy PushThe industry hoped to see federal privacy legislation adopted last year, but that didn’t happen.California’s new privacy law went into effect Jan. 1, becoming the most influential U.S. privacy statute. New York, Washington State and others are considering their own privacy bills, which could create a patchwork of state privacy regulations, making compliance difficult for global tech giants.The tech companies, hoping to avoid that, are again lobbying Congress to adopt a federal privacy law before the 2020 elections.Chinese telecommunications company Huawei Technologies Co., after minimal outlays, started spending heavily on lobbying in the second half of last year as it found itself in the crosshairs of the Trump administration. In May, the Commerce Department placed the company on a blacklist designed to cut it off from U.S. suppliers.Huawei spent $1.1 million in the fourth quarter and nearly $3 million for the full year, up from $165,000 in 2018. The increase was primarily to pay lobbyist Michael Esposito, who touts his connections to Trump, though the president has said he doesn’t know him.Trade WarsIn the final months of 2019, companies and trade groups intensified their lobbying on international trade issues as the Trump administration sought to end the tariff war with China and pass a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada.Earlier this year, the U.S. and China signed what they billed as the first phase of a broader trade pact that commits China to do more to crack down on the theft of American technology and avoid currency manipulation. The Senate passed Trump’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement or USMCA, which replaced the North America Free Trade Agreement, following House passage late last year.The National Association of Manufacturers’ spending on federal lobbying rose to $8.4 million in the last three months of 2019, a nearly 313% jump compared with the third quarter, and $14.6 million in all of 2019. The trade group lobbied on both China and North American trade issues, according to its filings.(Updates with Facebook spending from second paragraph)\--With assistance from Naomi Nix.To contact the reporters on this story: Eric Newcomer in San Francisco at email@example.com;Ben Brody in Washington, D.C. at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at email@example.com, ;Molly Schuetz at firstname.lastname@example.org, Paula DwyerFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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(Bloomberg) -- Netflix Inc.’s latest earnings report spurred mixed feelings across Wall Street as growth overseas was offset by a slowdown in the U.S. amid rising competition from Walt Disney Co., Apple Inc. and more forthcoming launches.Needham Co. believes the spike in streaming rivals will increase Netflix’s churn and customer acquisition costs, most likely lowering the lifetime value per subscriber as growth overseas isn’t equivalent to that domestically. Netflix would need to “add four $3-per-month subscriptions in India to offset each U.S. subscriber lost,” Laura Martin, TMT analyst at Needham, wrote in a note.Shares in Netflix fell as much as 3.7% on Wednesday morning, the most in 10 weeks, before trimming some of that decline. The stock has fluctuated since the streaming service reported Tuesday post-market.Analysts remained generally positive about the results and, despite first-quarter guidance missing estimates, believe the forecast appeared to be cautious. Netflix added 8.3 million subscribers internationally in the fourth quarter to surpass 100 million paid memberships outside of the U.S. for the first time.“Netflix is taking a conservative tone to start the year, with the assumption of slight headwinds,” wrote Raymond James’s Justin Patterson. “This reflects content timing, a competitive launch in Europe, and working through 2019’s U.S. churn,” he added.Stifel analyst Scott W. Devitt also said Disney+ appeared to have a less meaningful impact in available international markets than in the U.S. Still, the analyst cautioned about potential effects of the broader rollout of Disney+ in the EMEA region toward the end of the first quarter.Here’s what Wall Street is saying:Morgan Stanley, Ben SwinburneOverweight, price target $400Update reinforces bullish long-term view and, going forward, analyst expects 90% of global paid net additions to come from outside the U.S., amid continued elevated domestic churn.Notes that local originals were the most popular titles in 2019 in countries including India, Japan, Turkey, Sweden and the U.K.Guidance for nearly $1 billion in free cash flow improvement begins the path toward positive free cash flow and reinforces confidence in the earnings outlook.Piper Sandler, Michael OlsonOverweight, price target $400Netflix reported a “strong” fourth quarter thanks to international subscriber additions, though its first-quarter outlook was below consensus and “likely conservative.”Domestic streaming net subscriber additions were below the Street, likely due to the combination of elevated churn from pricing changes applied earlier in the year and new competition from Disney and Apple.Loup Ventures, Gene Munster“A mixed bag,” with domestic competition demonstrated by U.S. churn but with outperformance at the international business, leaving Netflix’s underlying growth opportunity intact.Also notes that from next year, consumers will have to make more thoughtful streaming decisions as promotional pricing from Apple TV+ and Disney+ comes to an end.“Including video offerings with other paid products and services creates a temporary perception of value in the minds of consumers and an opportunity for video providers to hook viewers, but, eventually, that perception changes.”BMO Capital Markets, Daniel SalmonOutperform, price target $440While U.S. churn remained slightly elevated after a price increase and competitive launches, “solid” growth in U.S. subscribers pushes back materially on the most bearish views.Combined with better-than-expected results in non-U.S. subscribers, BMO says that story remains “firmly intact” for growth investors, whereas free cash flow guidance for 2020 coming in better-than-expected should support interest from GARP (growth at a reasonable price) investors as Netflix makes the free cash flow turn.Bernstein, Todd JuengerOutperform, raises price target to $423 from $415International net paid adds accelerated in every region to a new fourth-quarter all-time high, beat the guide, and beat Bernstein’s estimate and consensus. Since international is where all the total addressable market and future growth lies, says Juenger, “perhaps we should just end this report right here.”“Imagine how differently this EPS report might have been received if Netflix had found an additional 200,000 U.S. net adds.” Netflix still grew in the U.S., Juenger wrote.Netflix’s U.S. subscribers “responded to the Disney+ launch by watching more Netflix.”“With very little new original Disney+ content over the next several quarters, we think consumers will be reinforced in their appreciation of Netflix’s unique value proposition: ‘always something new to watch.’”Citigroup, Jason BazinetNeutral, price target $325Citigroup expects the stock to trade flattish as the better EPS outlook is offset by the lower-than-expected net add guidance.“All told, while the firm delivered a solid set of 4Q19 results and issued 1Q20 EPS guidance above expectations, we suspect that management’s 1Q20 net add guidance is less robust than the market expected.”Needham, Laura MartinUnderperform rating“U.S. subscribers historically have been 3x more profitable than international subs. This gap is widening, and India highlights this problem.”Going forward, Netflix will aggregate low return on investment (ROI) international subs with U.S. subscribers, which masks Netflix’s true ROI trends. Management must add four $3-per-month subscriptions in India to offset each U.S. subscriber lost.Needham expects rising U.S. competition to increase Netflix’s churn and customer acquisition costs, which should lower the company’s lifetime value per subscriber versus historical levels, and put downward pressure on valuation multiples.RBC Capital Markets, Mark MahaneyOutperform, price target $420“We are incrementally positive. In a year when Netflix had two hands tied behind its back (material price increases and pullback in marketing spend), it managed to add almost as many global paid subs in FY19 as in FY18.”“That said, the ‘churn coast’ is not yet clear in the U.S., with domestic adds slowing, as Netflix felt roughly equal impacts from last year’s price increase and new competitive launches.”Evercore ISI, Vijay JayantIn-line, price target $300“With the service likely having reached ‘peak net adds’ we remain cautious on longer-term ARPU and margin trends and view the risk/reward tradeoff as fair at best at current valuations.”“While bulls will point to a better content slate in the 2Q as a means of making up any 1Q shortfall, we are less convinced given a flurry of competitive launches as a headwinds to consider and believe it likely that 2018 will ultimately represent peak net additions for the company.”Raymond James, Justin PattersonStrong buy, price target $415“Netflix is taking a conservative tone to start the year, with the assumption of slight headwinds on UCAN and international markets.”“This reflects content timing, a competitive launch in Europe, and working through 2019’s U.S. churn.”(Adds share move in third paragraph, Needham and Raymond James comments to second and fifth, and more commentary in analyst section after BMO.)\--With assistance from Lisa Pham and William Canny.To contact the reporters on this story: Joe Easton in London at email@example.com;Kit Rees in London at firstname.lastname@example.org;Kamaron Leach in New York at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Beth Mellor at firstname.lastname@example.org, Celeste Perri, Jeremy R. CookeFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The prospect of a comeback for the populist Italian firebrand Matteo Salvini was hanging over markets on Wednesday after a key political rival stepped down, raising the chances of an early election that could pave the way for him to pursue his euroskeptic agenda.The resignation of Luigi Di Maio as leader of the Five Star Movement has unsettled investors wary of another standoff between Italy and the European Union. Bonds fell as much as eight basis points on fears about the government’s stability but then recovered as the fragile coalition held together.For now investors see a weaker government whose key members are compelled to cling to power and avoid a snap election that they would be likely to lose.“Our economists’ base case is that the coalition government survives through 2020,” George Cole, managing director at Goldman Sachs International in London, said in a client note. He expects the Italian bond yield premium to narrow against Spanish and Portuguese peers as data stabilizes and the European Central Bank continues to snap up assets in the region.Bank stocks in the country bore the brunt of selling, and the FTSE Italia All-Share Banks Index dropped 1.6% as of 3.39 p.m. in London.The key focus now will be local elections this weekend: Gains for the League party could send the spread between benchmark Italian bonds and their German peers to beyond 200 basis points, predicts Peter McCallum, rates strategist at Mizuho International Plc in London. The gap is steady at 162 basis points.“Even a benign election result at the weekend would likely still leave an uncertain political situation,” McCallum said.The developments threaten to add pressure to the nation’s bonds, which have been drifting lower in recent months after a stellar run in 2019. The yield on the benchmark posted the biggest annual drop in five years as the ECB, a key buyer of Italian debt, resumed its stimulus measures.Despite the apprehension there are some who think the market could live with a Salvini government. A general election campaign would likely herald higher volatility and wider spreads, but these could re-tighten even if Salvini wins, according to Antoine Bouvet, a senior rates strategist at ING Groep NV in London.“Historically the League has been seen as a more pro-business party,” he said. “Some of their planned tax cuts would threaten the deficit but it could also boost growth. Once the election is out of the way, with presumably a League victory, I think markets will come to terms with a Salvini-led government.”Here’s what other strategists are saying:MUFG Bank Ltd. (League government could be negative for the euro)Lee Hardman, currency strategist.“It is a more euro-negative threat with respect to the Italian government’s commitment to at least bring public finances in line with euro-zone ideals. If the League were to take over, then at face value there is more risk of confrontation between the EU and the Italian government further down the line, and that is something that could be destabilizing and euro negative. At this stage it is all ifs, buts and maybes.”Societe Generale SA (Politics for now will have little impact on credit)Juan Valencia, credit strategist.“If BTPs really underperform, some Italian credit would widen in sympathy. For the overall market, it won’t matter much, unless things deteriorate badly. There is big demand for credit and people keep buying.”“If you start seeing weakness in BTPs, then the banks are going to come under pressure and some corporates but I would see this as a temporary setback, probably an opportunity to buy.”Rabobank (Sell-off is a buying opportunity)Lyn Graham-Taylor, senior rates strategist.“I would fade today’s sell-off” as the Democratic Party and Five Star are lagging in the polls and have little incentive to call a snap election.Colombo Wealth SA (League win in Sunday’s elections could create opportunities)Alberto Tocchio, chief investment officer.“Of course it could create some unwanted political instability in Italy and Europe and to me the best trade is to go long the widening of the BTP-bund spread.”“If there is an over-reaction on Monday with a substantial sell-off of Italian equities, it could be a nice entry opportunity in a unloved market with some decent stocks that are offering an high dividend yield.”ING Bank NV (Spreads could tighten on a Salvini government)Antoine Bouvet, rates strategist.“There is a more technical reason why spreads will re-tighten even if Salvini is elected: investors cannot stay underweight/short Italian bonds for too long. They offer a much better carry than other government bonds and represent too large a portion of the market for investors to ignore them.”(Adds comment from Goldman Sachs in fourth paragraph and new chart.)\--With assistance from Anooja Debnath, Tasos Vossos and Ksenia Galouchko.To contact the reporters on this story: William Shaw in London at email@example.com;James Hirai in London at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Dana El Baltaji at email@example.com, Cecile Gutscher, Sam PotterFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Apple (AAPL) is expected to begin manufacturing of its unannounced affordable iPhone variant in February ahead of a public debut in March, per Bloomberg.
Netflix (NFLX) to gain from international content deals and the expansion of the content portfolio with the slated release of 21 films from Studio Ghibli as well as the latest Pokemon animation.
(Bloomberg) -- United Nations experts said the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was possibly involved in hacking the cellphone of Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos and have called for an investigation.Bezos’ phone was hacked following an exchange he had with the Saudi Prince on WhatsApp in 2018 that was infiltrated via an MP4 video file sent from the WhatsApp account used by the Prince, according to a statement by UN independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council Wednesday.A forensic analysis found that “massive and (for Bezos’ phone) unprecedented exfiltration of data from the phone began.”The statement said the intrusion “likely was undertaken through the use of a prominent spyware product identified in other Saudi surveillance cases, such as the NSO Group’s Pegasus-3 malware, through the use of Israeli spyware.” The report notes that the product is widely reported to have been purchased and deployed by Saudi officials.A representative for the NSO Group denied any connection to the Bezos hack, describing such a suggestion as “defamatory. Our technology was not used in this instance.“ The representative said “our technology cannot be used on U.S. phone numbers, our products are only used to investigate terror and serious crime.”The report from independent experts Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, follows an investigation into the killing of Saudi and Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” Callamard and Kaye wrote. Bezos owns the Post.The allegations also point to a pattern of targeted surveillance of perceived opponents and those of broader strategic importance to the Saudi authorities, the report said, which are relevant “to ongoing evaluation of claims about the Crown Prince’s involvement in the 2018 murder” of Khashoggi. Saudi operatives have attacked Bezos in a flurry of social media posts, and the U.S. has charged two Twitter Inc. Employees and a Saudi national with being illegal agents for Saudi Arabia.The report said the circumstances and timing of the Bezos hack “strengthen support for further investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities of the allegations that the Crown Prince ordered, incited, or, at a minimum, was aware of planning for but failed to stop the mission that fatally targeted Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul.”The revelation of new details about a security breach that affected the world’s richest man comes about a year after the surprise announcement that Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, would divorce after 25 years of marriage. The National Enquirer subsequently disclosed an extramarital affair between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former television anchor, in a series of reports that relied, in part, on intimate text messages sent by Bezos.Bezos later wrote an extraordinary blog post accusing the tabloid of threatening to publish more embarrassing text messages and photos unless he publicly affirmed that there was no political motivation or outside force behind the tabloid’s coverage.Gavin de Becker, a security consultant for Bezos, said at the time that he believed the Saudi Arabian government had accessed Bezos’s phone before the Enquirer exposed the affair. He didn’t provide any direct evidence to back up his claims, which he said came from “our investigators and several experts.” De Becker cited the Enquirer’s business relationship with the Saudis, as well as tough coverage of the murder of a critic of the Saudi regime by the Bezos-owned Washington Post, as reasons why bin Salman might seek to harm the Amazon founder.On Wednesday, Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, wrote to Bezos seeking more information about the hack and concerns of Saudi involvement.“Unfortunately, the breach of your device appears to be part of a growing trend,” Wyden wrote. “To help Congress better understand what happened -- and to help protect Americans against similar attacks __ I encourage you to provide my office with information regarding your case. I am particularly interested in the technical details, including indicators of compromise from the hack, which could help the United States Government, businesses and independent researchers discover who else may have been targeted and take steps to protect themselves.”(Updates to add Bezos connection to Post. A previous version of the story corrected the spelling of Human Rights Council in second paragraph)\--With assistance from David Wainer, William Turton and Ryan Gallagher.To contact the reporters on this story: Molly Schuetz in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org;Giles Turner in London at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Molly Schuetz at firstname.lastname@example.org, Robin AjelloFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The most astonishing revelation in reports about the hacking of Jeff Bezos’s cellphone is that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have played a direct, personal role. Bloomberg News reports that two people familiar with the breach say Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler, known as MBS, started the process by sending the Amazon.com Inc. chief a WhatsApp message containing hidden malware, which gave the Saudis access to the billionaire’s phone.More damning still, independent United Nations experts say they have information suggesting MBS's involvement in the hack. “The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” wrote independent experts Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, in a statement Wednesday.How the prince responds will reveal whether he has learned any lessons from the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and its fallout.The message to Bezos preceded the grisly murder of the journalist, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, by five months. The UN investigation into the killing said MBS “has a responsibility in relationship to the killing” and the CIA believes he gave the order. The Saudi government denies this, and went through a form of judicial proceedings to affix blame on people it claims were involved.This saga has done little to dispel the cloud over MBS’s reputation. As I wrote on the anniversary of the murder, the ghost of Khashoggi haunts the prince’s every step. It even attended, Banquo-like, the banquet for bankers that was the Aramco IPO.The story about the hacking of the Washington Post’s owner has the potential to attract as much attention as the killing of the newspaper’s columnist.The allegation that the prince was personally involved is especially damaging, and will lower even further his international standing. In the U.S., it will harden the resolve of many in Congress to hold MBS to account for the murder, despite President Trump’s best efforts to shield him.It won’t end there. That the target was one of the world’s richest men will invite closer scrutiny of other incidents involving less prominent figures — such as the reported hacking of phones belonging to Saudi dissidents, threats against other critics, and the charge that Twitter employees spied for the kingdom. The first response from the Saudis was true to form. The Saudi embassy in Washington has characterized the reports of the Bezos hack as “absurd,” reprising the posture it adopted in dismissing first reports that Khashoggi was murdered on orders from Riyadh.The wiser course would be to allow a transparent investigation into the hack with a broader mandate than the UN probe — to find out who ordered it as well as who executed it. After the opaque process surrounding the Khashoggi killing, any investigation by Saudi authorities will inevitably give the impression of a cover-up. The best way to avert that reasonable suspicion would be to allow international supervision of the process.If such a probe concludes that the first breach of Bezos’s phone came from MBS’s WhatsApp message, then the prince must make a clear breast of it: a real mea culpa, and not the caveat-laden acknowledgment he belatedly allowed in the Khashoggi affair. Better still, he should forswear the use of such tactics against critics.MBS’s admirers and defenders often point out that the prince has a long reign ahead of him: He could be king for 50 years. That era will go easier without more ghosts and scandals dogging him.To contact the author of this story: Bobby Ghosh at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Gibney at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Bobby Ghosh is a columnist and member of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board. He writes on foreign affairs, with a special focus on the Middle East and the wider Islamic world.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Netflix Inc. says it’s ready to take on the toughest year in its history in terms of new streaming competition. Investors have their doubts.Netflix delivered generally upbeat fourth-quarter results after Tuesday’s close, with overseas growth helping offset a slowdown at home, but it expects to add fewer subscribers in the current quarter than Wall Street projected.The shares tumbled as much as 3.7%, the most since November, in New York trading Wednesday morning, after trending mostly higher amid volatile trading since the postclose report.With technology and media giants such as Apple Inc., AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp. and Walt Disney Co. all bringing new video platforms online, Netflix is working to keep customers loyal with a flood of shows and movies. The company plans to boost its spending by 20% this year, bringing its programming budget to about $12 billion on a profit-and-loss basis.“We view our big long-term opportunity as big and unchanged,” Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings said during a pretaped recap of its fourth-quarter earnings, released Tuesday.Despite the muted first-quarter subscriber forecast, Netflix said there’s “ample room for many services to grow.”Netflix investors have been grappling with whether the company’s days of reliable growth are over. The company added fewer customers in 2019 than it did in 2018, and its increase in the U.S. and Canada decelerated by more than 3 million. In posting the results Tuesday, Netflix said price hikes and a growing array of options have made it harder to attract customers.It’s only going to get tougher. Apple’s TV+ and the Disney+ platform both launched in the U.S. during November, enticing consumers with lower-cost services, while AT&T’s HBO Max and Comcast’s Peacock are both coming online in the next few months.All those competitors are likely to slow customer additions and increase the number of existing customers who cancel Netflix.Against that backdrop, Netflix posted its weakest year of domestic subscriber growth since it first broke out its online service from the company’s traditional DVD-by-mail business in 2011. Netflix is projecting a gain of 7 million paid subscribers worldwide in the first quarter, short of the 7.82 million estimate.“We are working hard to improve our service to combat these factors,” it said in a letter to shareholders.Staying the CourseBut the Los Gatos, California-based company argues that its strategy is still sound, and competition shouldn’t cause it to change course. Losing popular shows such as “Friends” to its new rivals has had no impact on viewership so far. Netflix subscribers are just finding other shows to watch, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said.For proof, Netflix can point to its global growth in the latest quarter. The company added 8.76 million customers in the period, compared with forecasts of 7.65 million. Hastings described them as “amazing numbers.”Netflix has pinned its future potential on growth outside the U.S., where it doesn’t yet face the same level of competition. Europe and Latin America have been the company’s engine in the past couple years, and continued to serve that role in the fourth quarter. Netflix added 4.4 million customers in Europe, bringing its overall total to almost 52 million, and another 2.04 million customers in Latin America.Non-English ShowsNetflix plans to release more than 100 seasons of local language programming next year. Though its biggest global hits are mostly English-language shows such as “Stranger Things” and “The Witcher,” its most popular programs in many territories are in other languages, like Spain’s “Casa de Papel.” The company is also experimenting with different pricing plans in Asia.Netflix has borrowed billions to fund all that programming, and its long-term debt stands at almost $15 billion. But the company said this past year will mark the high-water mark in terms of its cash burn. Earnings of $1.30 a share also handily beat analyst estimates of 30 cents, lifted by a tax benefit.Investors weren’t sure what to make of Netflix’s results at first. The shares had dropped as much as 3% to $327.97 in extended trading before rebounding, then drifted lower again Wednesday morning into the open. The company’s shares had climbed 4.5% so far this year before Tuesday’s close.“After several years of unchecked dominance in the U.S. streaming-video industry, Netflix faces high-profile new streaming rivals,” Geetha Ranganathan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said in a report. “Yet the breadth of its content and a compelling value proposition will make it hard for new entrants like Disney+ to unseat the company.”(An earlier version of the story corrected a quarterly financial comparison.)To contact the reporter on this story: Lucas Shaw in Los Angeles at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org, John J. Edwards III, Cécile DauratFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.