The Week's Top Stories: Shutdown Shockwaves and Bezos Divorce

January 11, 2019

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, these are the top stories that moved markets and had investors, business leaders, and entrepreneurs talking this week on Cheddar.

  • Shutdown Shockwaves: The partial government shutdown is now the longest in U.S. history, and its effects are being widely felt ー from federal workers who missed their first paycheck Friday to investors awaiting regulatory approval for stock sales and pending takeovers. And for IPOs, the shutdown has all but shut down the pipeline. The SEC had been able to stay mostly operable during past shutdowns but doesn't have the cash on hand this time to do anything other than keep a skeleton staff working. That means January is likely to close without a major IPO, a bad start for a year that was expected to be chock-full of new offerings. For households counting on their yearly tax refund, the Treasury Dept. has directed the IRS to process refunds even if the shutdown drags on ー but experts worry it's a particularly bad time for the IRS to be working with a thin staff, given the confusion expected from the new tax law and its transition.

  • Trade Progress: The U.S. and China advanced mid-level trade negotiations held in Beijing this week, though a breakthrough that would resolve the months-long trade war remained elusive. Still, the meeting ー the first since a temporary tariff ceasefire was called in December ー appeared to make progress in some areas, like opening the Chinese market to more American investment. Both sides released optimistic statements, and President Trump tweeted: "Talks with China are going very well!" A sign that talks were moving came when Beijing announced that five new genetically-modified crops could be imported after a long delay, a concern among farmers and seed manufacturers.

  • Bezos Divorce: What happens when the world's richest couple gets a divorce? We're going to find out soon enough. Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos announced their amicable divorce this week after 25 years of marriage and a trial separation. The pair is expected to file for divorce in Washington, a "50/50" no-fault state, and reportedly does not have a prenup. Jeff Bezos is worth something in the neighborhood of $140 billion. That means MacKenzie Bezos, who helped her husband realize his vision and worked as Amazon's ($AMZN) first bookkeeper, could plausibly become the richest woman in the world. But Bezos' wealth is largely tied up in Amazon stock, which means his ownership stake in the company he founded ー currently a little more than 16 percent ー could be diluted. Read more.

  • Retail Bloodbath: Holiday sales started off strong but fizzled out for some of the country's biggest retailers. Macy's ($M) slashed its inventory, profit, sales, and gross margin on Thursday, sending the entire sector lower and giving the stock its biggest one-day decline in its history, a drop of about 18 percent. J.C. Penney ($JCP), Abercrombie & Fitch ($ANF), and Barnes & Noble ($BKS) were among the other big retailers driven lower. The XRT, an ETF that tracks the retail sector, fell 2 percent. Even Target ($TGT) was collateral damage, reporting positive results and still going lower, as investors got nervous that even the best-positioned brick-and-mortar retailers were still exposed to the generational changes sweeping the industry.

  • CES: The Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up its annual gathering in Las Vegas, Nev., where the latest gadgets ー many of which will never be touched by any actual consumers ー are displayed. This year's show got attention for headline-grabbing products like a banned sex toy and a $7,000 toilet, but the event is beginning to more closely resemble a futuristic auto show than its history as a showcase for tech nerds would have you believe. One of the standouts: a full-scale model of the Bell Nexus, the "flying taxi" that Uber is betting on as the first to transport passengers in some cities as soon as 2023. Toyota also unveiled its Guardian concept ー a safety technology "ecosystem" that it says will assist drivers without going fully autonomous. Toyota announced it would offer Guardian to its competitors, another indication that today's automakers see themselves more as mobility services providers than traditional car companies. Meanwhile, Chinese e-commerce juggernaut made its CES debut to tout an autonomous delivery drone. Read more.

ーCarlo Versano