Having been blamed as one of the culprits for the spread of fake news, Facebook announced that it is altering its newsfeed algorithm so that users will see less content from sensation-seeking publishers and websites and enjoy more “meaningful” interactions with friends and family. The social network admitted that this could reduce the amount of time people spend on Facebook, a measure closely watched by investors. Questions also remain about how Facebook will deem which publishers are trustworthy.
John Flannery, the chief executive of General Electric, touted the idea of breaking up the struggling conglomerate into separate businesses. GE has already sold off many non-performing divisions and is restructuring around its three core operations of power, aviation and health care. But this week the company revealed a $9.5bn pre-tax charge to cover reinsurance policies at GE Capital, a business whose difficulties had been thought to be in the past. See article.
Something rotten in the state
Carillion, Britain’s second-biggest construction company, collapsed. Its troubles became apparent last year when it issued profit warnings. Carillion employed around 20,000 people in Britain, and a similar number abroad. The government is under pressure because many public services, including in health care, depend on the company. Despite last year’s warning signs, Carillion was still awarded contracts for infrastructure and defence programmes. The opposition claims the government was “feeding” the company contracts to keep it afloat. See article.
SoftBank was reportedly considering listing 30% of its mobile-communications business. That could fetch ¥2trn ($18bn), making it one of the biggest IPOs in Japan. Also testing the waters for an IPO, Dropbox has quietly filed papers for a stockmarket listing, according to reports. See article.
Tiptoe through the tulips
The bitcoin bubble deflated, as the price fell below $10,000, half its peak of a month ago. Reports of regulatory crackdowns on crypto-currencies in China and South Korea have contributed to the bust, as have worries about the security of bitcoin transactions. See article.
Britain’s annual inflation rate slipped back to 3% in December from 3.1% in November, easing the short-term pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates again.
Airbus and Boeing again jostled for the title of world’s biggest planemaker. Boeing delivered more aircraft in 2017—763 to Airbus’s 718—but its European rival booked more net orders: 1,109 to Boeing’s 912. Airbus has held the lead in orders since 2013, but was short on commitments for the A380. This week the company said it would no longer build the superjumbo without orders from Emirates, the A380’s biggest customer, provoking the airline into ordering 36. See article.
Bouncing back from its emissions-cheating scandal, Volkswagen revealed that it sold 10.7m vehicles worldwide last year (including its 11 subsidiary brands). That will make it the world’s biggest carmaker if Toyota’s figure later this month confirms an estimate of 10.4m vehicles sold.
BP booked another $1.7bn charge related to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 men in 2010 and caused the worst oil spill in American history. The charge arose from wrangling about the economic costs of the spill, though the energy company says this legal process is now winding down. Still, BP raised the forecast of how much it will have to pay this year because of the disaster to $3bn.
America’s big banks reported earnings for the fourth quarter. All were affected by the recent changes to America’s tax laws, which reduced the retrospective tax benefits on certain assets. Goldman Sachs posted its first quarterly loss since 2011, of $1.9bn, as it adjusted to the new rules. Citigroup booked a $22bn tax charge, which led to an $18.3bn quarterly loss, bigger than any it endured during the financial crisis. JPMorgan Chase, however, was able to turn a net profit of $4.2bn, despite tax-adjustment costs, as did Bank of America, with net income of $2.4bn.
Apple also adjusted to the new tax regime, announcing that it will pay $38bn in tax to repatriate money it holds overseas, taking advantage of a new incentive for firms to make a one-time payment on foreign cash at a lower tax rate. The tech giant also pledged to spend $30bn on new offices and data centres in America.
In the first big divestment by the Swiss foods group under its new boss, Nestlé sold its confectionery business in America to Ferrero for $2.8bn. Based in Italy, Ferrero makes chocolate-wrapped hazelnut sweets (very popular at ambassadors’ parties, apparently).