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DealBook Briefing: Jeffrey Epstein’s Finances Are Under the Microscope After His Death


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The death of Jeffrey Epstein, apparently by suicide, over the weekend hasn’t ended the inquiries into accusations that he trafficked underage girls for a network of abusers. Instead, it has prompted many more.

Mr. Epstein may have died because of security lapses. He was left alone in his Manhattan jail cell just 11 days after being taken off suicide watch. Guards were supposed to check on him every 30 minutes, but didn’t. Attorney General William Barr said that the Justice Department would investigate.

The investigation into his alleged crimes will continue. The federal authorities will turn their focus to people who accusers say were his associates in sex trafficking. Documents in a defamation lawsuit against Ghislane Maxwell, who has been accused of being a longtime accomplice of Mr. Epstein’s, were unsealed on Friday, giving new details about the scale of his alleged operation — and named others said to be involved in it.

His opaque finances are a main focus, according to the NYT. Officials at JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank, which did business with Mr. Epstein, are scouring their books for clues. Questions still surround Les Wexner, the financier’s most prominent client, and how Mr. Epstein used Mr. Wexner’s wealth to finance his own fortune.

Expect a fight over Mr. Epstein’s estate, Chris Dolmetsch of Bloomberg reports. Lawyers, who are still struggling to figure out what the financier owned, will also battle over who gets it — and it’s not assured that victims will win out.

Conspiracy theories have arisen about Mr. Epstein’s death. President Trump retweeted a video implicating the Clintons, which has made the rounds on far-right websites. (There’s no evidence to support the claim.) That’s a sign of how our information systems are now so easily poisoned, according to Charlie Warzel of the NYT.

The Saudi oil giant reported its earnings for the first half of 2019 this morning and announced a huge investment to help broaden its businesses.

• Aramco said that its first-half profit fell 12 percent compared with the same time last year, to $46.9 billion. (For comparison: Apple earned $31.5 billion in the first half.) It’s a sign of how low oil prices have hurt the world’s most profitable company.

• Total revenue fell 3 percent, to $163.9 billion.

• It increased dividend payments to its owner, the Saudi government, by 45 percent, to $46.4 billion.

It also struck a big deal for Reliance’s oil and chemicals business. The transaction, one of the biggest foreign investments in an Indian company, values the division at $75 billion, including debt.

The deal will help Aramco find another use for its oil. It comes months after the Saudi petroleum giant bought a majority stake in an oil chemical business, Sabic, for $69 billion. Amin Nasser, Aramco’s C.E.O., said such deals would help diversify its operations.

It’s unclear how this plays into Aramco’s I.P.O. plans. The company is expected to formally start interviewing potential underwriters for an I.P.O. next month, the NYT reports, citing an unnamed source. The WSJ, citing unnamed people, adds that the oil producer is hoping to stage that offering as soon as next year.

Expect more information when Aramco executives hold the company’s first-ever earnings call at 9 a.m. Eastern.

In both pre-emptive and defensive ways, the social network is modifying its behavior to fend off antitrust concerns, Mike Isaac of the NYT reports.

The company has demurred from acquisitions. Late last year it halted talks about buying Houseparty, a video-focused social network, over antitrust concerns, according to unnamed sources. “Acquiring another social network after Facebook was already such a dominant player in that market was too risky,” Mr. Isaac writes.

It’s also making internal changes to make a breakup of the company more difficult. “The company has been knitting together the messaging systems of Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp and has reorganized the departments so that Facebook is more clearly in charge,” Mr. Isaac writes. “Executives have also worked on rebranding Instagram and WhatsApp to more prominently associate them with Facebook.”

Facebook pushed back on the idea that it’s trying to head off a potential breakup.

Last week’s slide in the yields of U.S. government bonds has left some people wondering whether negative interest rates — once unimaginable — could become a reality, Sam Goldfarb and Daniel Kruger of the WSJ write.

It has already happened in other parts of the world. In fact, “there is more than $15 trillion in government debt around the world with negative yields,” Mr. Goldfarb and Mr. Kruger write. “That means, essentially, that savers holding these bonds are paying the government to store their money.”

Falling U.S. bond yields suggest that the same thing could happen in America. “If you proposed negative rates 10 years ago, people would have laughed you out of the room,” Mark MacQueen, a bond manager and principal at Sage Advisory Services, told the WSJ. “Today people are getting on board the negative-rate idea very quickly.”

“Yields have been this low during a few other periods in the past decade,” Mr. Goldfarb and Mr. Kruger write. “But many investors are unsure what could revive them this time, absent a change in government policy or unexpected improvement in the economic outlook.”

For now it’s a minority view, with most investors believing that the economic outlook is robust enough to fend off that scenario.

Twitter continues to face criticism for its slow response to problems ranging from misinformation to hate speech. But according to a new profile of its C.E.O., Jack Dorsey, by Roger Parloff of Yahoo Finance, that’s perhaps unsurprising.

• Mr. Dorsey “almost avoids decision-making,” one former Twitter executive told Mr. Parloff. “He can’t decide anything,” another said.

• “He speaks in riddles,” another former employee said, adding that Mr. Dorsey’s comments could be “like listening to a fortune-cookie talk.”

• “He once said he thought the perfect meeting was one in which he doesn’t have to say a thing,” said a former high-level employee from Square, the other company that Mr. Dorsey leads.

Not everyone thinks that slow pace is a bad thing. “Jack’s at a slower pace where he’s noticing things that the rest of us don’t notice,” Greg Kidd, an early investor in both Twitter and Square, told Mr. Parloff. “That’s extremely valuable to society.”

There is a striking degree of overlap between the words of right-wing media personalities (and President Trump) and the language used by the Texas man who has confessed to killing 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso this month, according to an NYT investigation.

An extensive review of popular right-wing media platforms “found hundreds of examples of language, ideas and ideologies that overlapped with the mass killer’s written statement — a shared vocabulary of intolerance that stokes fears centered on immigrants of color.” The TV and radio programs that were studied reach an audience of millions.

Words like “invaders” or “invasion” were rarely used by American outlets before the first groups of Central American migrants received heavy news media coverage in 2018.

But “in the last year, the use of such terms has surged, with references to an immigrant ‘invasion’ appearing on more than 300 Fox News broadcasts. The vast majority of those were spoken by Fox News hosts and guests, but some included clips of Mr. Trump using that language.”

The El Paso gunman claimed to be defending against a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” in a document that he published shortly before the attack.

More: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders have all called on Walmart to stop selling guns. So far, the retailer has removed violent video game displays — but has no plans to stop gun sales. Why it might be too late to ban assault-style weapons. Mr. Trump is confident that he can push through policies on “meaningful background checks” and other gun control measures.

President Trump’s escalating economic war with China is making it difficult for Democratic rivals to differentiate themselves on trade policy, Ana Swanson of the NYT writes.

Mr. Trump has stolen the Democrats’ playbook on trade, usurping their argument that China is an economic aggressor bent on undermining American industry, denouncing Nafta and insisting on using tools like tariffs and federal procurement to help U.S. workers. In fact, he’s acting more aggressively than many Democrats would.

That puts Democrats in an awkward spot. “They are trying to figure out how to differentiate themselves from Mr. Trump — without ceding their position as the party that will do the most to defend workers against the downsides of globalization,” Ms. Swanson writes.

So far, they are divided between two very different approaches:

• “On one side are Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates who hew more closely to Mr. Trump’s isolationist approach, arguing that trade pacts have sold out workers in favor of corporations.”

• “On the other are those advocating the type of engagement undertaken by previous Democratic administrations, including those of Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, to try to gain more influence over other countries through negotiation and trade.”

More: Mr. Trump said that trade talks with China next month could be canceled. Official figures from China show that it’s hurting from the trade war with the U.S. — and the truth is probably even worse. And how U.S. farmers increasingly need side hustles to offset the impact of the trade war.

Matthew Whitaker, the former acting attorney general, has joined the antivirus software company PC Matic as an of counsel.

Steven Barg, who had been Goldman Sachs’s top shareholder activism banker, has joined the activist hedge fund Elliott Management as its global head of corporate engagement.

Helen Wong, who had been HSBC’s head of Greater China since 2010, is resigning.

Global banks have announced nearly 30,000 layoffs since April.

Uber has frozen hiring for employees who work on software and services in the U.S. and Canada to save money.

Deals

• WeWork reportedly plans to publish its I.P.O. prospectus as soon as this week. (Bloomberg)

• CBS and Viacom are said to have agreed on who the directors would be if they combine, and could announce a merger as soon as this week. (Bloomberg)

• How venture capitalists have tried to woo start-ups: lavish dinners, diapers for expecting parents and even customized comic books. (Information)

Politics and policy

• President Trump showed up at the fund-raiser hosted by the real estate mogul Stephen Ross and joked about the backlash that it had spurred. The celebrity chef David Chang was among those who urged Mr. Ross to cancel the event. (Business Insider, NYT)

• The coming trial of Gregory Craig, a former Obama aide, will be a legal test of the government’s crackdown on unregistered foreign agents. (NYT)

• Many labor unions have embraced Medicare-for-all proposals, putting them at odds with moderate Democratic presidential candidates like Joe Biden. (Politico)

• Mr. Trump has reportedly sent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada several notes, including annotated magazine covers, handwritten with a Sharpie. (Axios)

Brexit

• The consulting firm EY warned that British business travelers could be blocked from traveling around Europe if Britain leaves the E.U. without a deal. (FT)

• The former head of Britain’s civil service warned that the British pound could fall to parity with the U.S. dollar in a no-deal Brexit. (Business Insider)

Tech

• Russian officials opened an antitrust investigation into Apple for restricting and removing parental control apps from its App Store. (NYT)

• The first review of Apple’s credit card is in: It probably won’t be your default payment option, at least for now. (WSJ)

• Huawei has unveiled Harmony OS, its homegrown operating system. But expect to see it first on devices like speakers and watches instead of smartphones. (Axios)

• How California turned on the tech industry. (WSJ)

• A new White House proposal would reportedly order the F.C.C. and F.T.C. to police what it claims is social media censorship. (CNN)

Best of the rest

• Cathay Pacific agreed to bar employees who support or join Hong Kong protests from working on flights to mainland China. (NYT)

• JPMorgan Chase made the unusual choice to forgive customers’ credit card debts as it exits the credit card business in Canada. (NYT)

• Italy’s biggest economic problem? Italy. (NYT)

• “The world’s wealthiest family gets $4 million richer every hour.” (Bloomberg)

• Here’s an effort to dissect the Saudi royal family’s finances. (Bloomberg)

Thanks for reading! We’ll see you tomorrow.

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