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Alden Clashes With Billionaire Over Future of Tribune—and of Local News


A few weeks ago, New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital LLC was on the verge of acquiring Tribune Publishing Co. —home to the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other U.S. metro newspapers—with seemingly no one in its way.

Then it offended one of its partners in the deal, setting off a battle that could help shape the future of local news in America.

Maryland hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr. had worked out a side arrangement with Alden Chief Executive Heath Freeman to buy the Sun, a paper Mr. Bainum grew up reading. Then, in Mr. Bainum’s view, Alden tried to raise the cost of a fee agreement that would substantially jack up the price, people close to the situation said.

Mr. Bainum told his advisers late on the afternoon of Friday, March 12, that he was worried he could no longer trust Alden, according to a person familiar with the matter.

That evening, the 74-year-old got on the phone with his bankers and decided to attempt a stunning 11th-hour move: his own bid for the whole company, which he announced by the end of the weekend.



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Microsoft Is in Exclusive Talks to Acquire Discord


Microsoft Corp. is in advanced talks to acquire messaging platform Discord Inc. for $10 billion or more, according to people familiar with the matter, as the software giant seeks to deepen its consumer offerings.

Microsoft and Discord are in exclusive talks and could complete a deal next month, assuming the negotiations don’t fall apart, the people said.

Originally favored by gamers, San Francisco-based Discord offers voice, text and video chatting. The platform’s popularity has surged since the pandemic took hold as people stay home and connect online—as has that of other chat services, like Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and Signal Messenger LLC. Discord has been considering an IPO.

Microsoft, which has a market value of more than $1.7 trillion, has been on the hunt for an acquisition that would help it reach more consumers. Last summer, it held talks to buy the popular video-sharing app TikTok amid a high-profile geopolitical standoff prompted by the Trump administration, before abandoning the effort.

VentureBeat reported this week that Discord was exploring a sale and had entered exclusive discussions with an unnamed suitor.



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Opinion: How to invest in the future — here’s an idea for a ‘Spacebook’ fund


Two years ago I was so bullish on Tesla that I basically wanted to become “the Tesla Fund.” Tesla was trading around $50 a share. It closed at $563 on March 8.

That was two years ago. I thought the setup was perfect for Tesla
TSLA,
-5.84%

and the pending electric-vehicle onslaught. Fast forward to today and Tesla is up more than 10-fold since we bought it, even after dropping more than 30% from its $900 high. The EV revolution is here and most of the stocks of the companies in that revolution have risen to bubblicious levels.

I am scouring the globe and even the universe to find the next revolutionary industries to get in front of, and I keep coming back to what I call The Space Revolution and The Virtual Reality Revolution.

So here’s what I’ve come up with as the best risk/reward for my hedge fund and perhaps for individual investors as well. I’m calling it “Spacebook,” which means being overweighted in space stocks and Facebook
FB,
-3.39%
.

Big bargain

Let’s start with Facebook. Holy cow, Facebook’s valuation is cheap. The shares trade for 22 times the consensus earnings estimate for the next 12 months among analysts polled by FactSet. This is for a company whose sales are expected to increase 25% in 2021 and 20% in 2022, following 22% in 2020. (You can see the consensus sales estimates for Facebook and other big tech stocks here.)

That valuation is only slightly ahead of a forward price-to-earnings estimate of 21.7 for the S&P 500 Index
SPX,
-0.54%
.
For the index, sale per share are expected to increase 9% in 2021 and 7% in 2022, after a 3.5% decline in 2020.

Facebook’s consistently high double-digit revenue growth is a lot for a company that did $86 billion in revenue last year. What’s most exciting about the growth numbers is that they don’t include any of the upside that Facebook is about to achieve in the burgeoning virtual reality market provided by the Oculus platform. As I wrote in January, the VR market is coming, and it’s coming soon. Facebook is going to be one of the biggest winners in that market, if not the biggest.

As I type this about Facebook, I can’t help but think back to two years ago (and 1,000% ago) as I wrote to you about Tesla. I’m getting the same exact feelings about valuations and revolutions.

To be clear, it’s not this current generation of Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headset that is going to go mainstream, but it’s the next, lighter, even more advanced one and the versions thereafter. Facebook has a critical mass of developers as well as apps and games being created for its platform already. The first version of Oculus was like a late-version iPod.

Space revolution

Now, how many times do I need to talk about the Space Revolution? The technology has gotten advanced and cheap enough that the whole thing is literally taking off. This is a private company’s dream come true. We are starting to see private space companies come public just as I was saying they would be two years ago.

Over the next 20 to 30 years, there are so many applications that can come to fruition. Space factories, space tourism, space hotels, asteroid mining, supersonic transportation, new colonies — the list goes on. If your time horizon is the next two to three years, I don’t know what to tell you. It might not happen in that period.

But if you are like me and thinking about the next 10,000 days, then we have to get in front of this revolution. I started two years ago when I bought Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the private market for my hedge fund and followed up a year and a half ago when we got into Virgin Galactic Holdings
SPCE,
-2.78%
.

A lot of public technology companies are bubbled up right now, space players included. We are probably paying two to three times what these companies are really worth right now as they come public.

VC-like investments

However, we are making venture-capital-like investments in these with the potential to see 50 to 100 times our investment over the next 10 to 20 years. I’m OK paying up a little for that kind of opportunity. If we compare this sector to the bubbled-up electric-vehicle revolution that is already here, I like the risk/reward of the coming Space Revolution much more. The EV market has already had its huge run.

So how do we continue to invest in the Space Revolution? SpaceX is clearly the best company right now. If you’re wealthy enough, with a little work, you can find a way to make a private investment in the company. I’ve done that in my hedge fund.

But if you don’t have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) to throw at SpaceX, I think Rocket Lab
VACQ,
-4.00%

is the best way to invest in the space revolution right now. You can read more about Rocket Lab and Vector Acquisition Corp., the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that is expected to take it public, here.

I have begun to take a position in both the hedge fund and my personal account. It has come down some (like most space stocks and high growth tech over the last week) since my initial report and I have continued to add to the position. Virgin Galactic remains another favorite public space company to invest in. We first got into that name in November 2019 at around $8 per share.

Virgin Galactic, just like the other space companies, is probably a little overvalued at the moment. Especially with no revenue and not being able to get its test flights successfully into orbit. But again, we are looking up to 30 years down the road and this is currently my third-favorite way to invest in the space revolution.

I’m researching four or five other space companies that have recently come public. I’ve also made Facebook one of my largest positions again for the first time in a while.

As always when making an investment, I suggest that you give yourself room to add to the position if it falls. Over the next six months to two years, I think we’ll have the opportunity to buy most small-cap tech stocks at lower prices. On the flipside, I can’t guarantee that those positions will drop, which is why I have begun to build my positions in the space and virtual reality revolutions, and why I will continue to add to them if given the chance at lower prices.

That’s why I am basically becoming “the Spacebook Fund.”

Cody Willard is a columnist for MarketWatch and editor of the Revolution Investing newsletter. Willard or his investment firm may own, or plan to own, securities mentioned in this column.



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Why Walmart is looking to beyond retail for future growth


A woman wearing a face mask walks past a sign informing customers that face coverings are required in front of a Walmart store in Washington, DC on July 15, 2020.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Walmart wants to tap what it sees as its greatest asset: its reach.

Every month, 160 million customers visit its stores or its website. The company not only wants to sell groceries, clothes and other items. It wants to chase new business opportunities, from bulking up its ad sales to becoming a major health-care provider. With the strategy, Walmart is acknowledging a tough reality: Retail may not be enough to power its future.

On Thursday, the retail giant’s leaders spoke at a virtual investor day and detailed a plan to sustain momentum as some pandemic-related tailwinds fade and online sales swell.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the discounter will weave together diverse services that customers want, from issuing a credit or debit card to dropping off groceries to their doorstep. It will also increase investments to cater to customers’ changed shopping habits, such as automation that will help it keep up with the heavy volume of curbside pickup orders.

“We feel emboldened and are now moving with even more speed and aggressiveness,” he said. “We’re scaling new capabilities and businesses and designing them to work together in a mutually reinforcing way.”

A new playbook

With the move, the big-box retailer is taking a page from retailers like Apple and Amazon that have built an ecosystem of products and services to deepen loyalty and win more of customers’ wallets. Amazon Web Services has been the profit engine of its parent company, helping the e-commerce giant offset the challenging economics of selling items it must pick, pack and ship.

It’s riffing off another Amazon strategy, too. This fall, it launched Walmart+, a subscription-based service with perks like free shipping and unlimited grocery deliveries to the home. The service costs $98 a year or $12.95 for a month.

Walmart faces skepticism as it unveils the new playbook, however. It fell short of fourth-quarter earnings estimates, despite a robust holiday season and sales lift from stimulus checks. The results and its forecast for moderating sales in the year ahead prompted a sell-off. Shares were down more than 5% midday on Thursday. In the fiscal year, Walmart grew its revenue by $35 billion, but higher sales alone won’t get it to higher profits.

Remaining competitive will require big-ticket investments. Walmart plans to spend about $14 billion in the coming year, improving its supply chain and adding automation, the company’s CFO Brett Biggs said. That’s higher than its typical rate of $10 billion to $11 billion, he said. These improvements will likely make online sales more efficient and profitable.

Still, McMillon sees a way for Walmart to capitalize on its assets — including its more than 4,700 U.S. locations. For example, the company can turn TV and checkout screens in stores into ad opportunities, use its large parking lots to support health clinics that it is opening in parts of the country and promote online merchandise through TikTok livestreaming event.

“This is the right time to make these investments,” he said. “The strategy, team and capabilities are in place. We know where the customer is going. We have momentum and our balance sheet is strong.”

Staying a few steps ahead

Walmart recently renamed its ads business and told CNBC it wants to grow that division by more than ten times in the next five years. It has opened 20 health clinics with lower-priced medical services like annual physicals, dentist checkups and therapy appointments — with plans for more. It is launching a fintech start-up with investment firm Ribbit Capital to offer unique, affordable financial products for its customers and employees.

McMillon said the company must stay a few steps ahead, especially as it sees such rapid change in the retail industry. The pandemic has permanently changed how some customers shop by fast-forwarding many of the customer trends Walmart was preparing for, according to McMillion.

“In the future, people will still want to shop in compelling stores, but more and more there will be occasions when they prefer to pick up an order or have it delivered,” he said.

“Some customers will eventually allow us and pay us to keep them replenished in their homes on the items they routinely purchase,” he said. “For an increasing number of customers, Walmart will be seen more like a service. Customers will think of us as the merchant that serves their wants and needs, but in ways that take less time and effort.”

And that’s why it’s investing in turning its stores into mini warehouses that use robots and employees to quickly complete online orders for delivery or curbside pickup. That, in turn, will help attract more members to Walmart’s subscription service, Walmart+, since home deliveries are a key reason why customers sign up, he said.

But, McMillon added, Walmart is letting go of some areas as it invests in others. He said it will continue to divest from markets and businesses, which allow it to focus on areas with greater growth potential.



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Stock falls 6% despite Q3 sales record


A gamer uses a PS4 controller as he plays the new Ubisoft video game Watch Dogs Legion on October 28, 2020.

Kenzo Tribouillard | AFP via Getty Images

LONDON — Ubisoft shares fell 6% Wednesday morning, despite the French video game giant reporting record quarterly sales. The company also narrowed its guidance for the full year.

Ubisoft posted sales of 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) in its fiscal third quarter, exceeding its own target and more than doubling the 455.5 million euros of sales the company booked in the same period a year ago.

The company said it benefited from a strong slate of new titles, including Just Dance 2021, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Watch Dogs: Legion. The strong performance was also helped by momentum for next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft, which launched in November. 

Ubisoft said its Assassin’s Creed Valhalla game delivered record sales for the franchise and was the second-best selling game on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and S machines. Watch Dog: Legions was the fourth-top selling title on next-gen platforms, Ubisoft said.

But it’s not just big new releases that are driving Ubisoft’s sales. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said on the firm’s earnings call that it saw “strong engagement” in its back catalog of games as well, adding this trend continued into January.

Rainbow Six Siege, a first-person shooter game Ubisoft released in 2013, now has 70 million players, Chief Financial Officer Frederick Duguet said. That’s an increase of 15 million users from last year. Rainbow Six Siege is a popular title in esports tournaments.

“In a context of increasing engagement and very supportive industry trends, the first nine months of the year confirmed that we are continuing to move towards an increasingly pronounced recurrence of our revenues,” Guillemot said in Ubisoft’s third-quarter earnings release Tuesday evening.

“Therefore, we expect our highly profitable back-catalog to account for an even larger share of our business going forward.”

It’s a sign of how the video game industry is shifting toward games with a longer lifespan and recurring revenue rather than just relying on big blockbuster hits.

Video game companies have benefited heavily from the coronavirus pandemic, as people are spending more time at home due to public health restrictions around the world.

Ubisoft narrowed its full-year guidance for revenue and profit Tuesday. The company said it now expects 2020/21 net sales of between 2.22 billion and 2.28 billion euros, versus the 2.2 billion to 2.35 billion euros it had previously expected; and operating income of 450 million to 500 million, tighter than its previous 420 million to 500 million euro target.

Ubisoft added it is in the “early stages” of developing a new Star Wars game after announcing a deal with Disney’s Lucasfilm Games division. The move marks the beginning of the end of a long-held exclusivity agreement between Lucasfilm Games and Electronic Arts.

EA announced Monday that it was buying mobile game developer Glu Mobile for $2.4 billion. Asked whether Ubisoft would explore mergers and acquisitions to fuel future growth, Guillemot said the firm’s approach was mainly to buy new technologies rather than content.

Ubisoft hasn’t yet taken a decision on whether to raise the prices of its video games to a new standard of $70, Guillemot said Tuesday. Large publishers like Take-Two Interactive are hiking game prices by $10 for next-gen consoles. It’s the first time there’s been a major price increase in blockbuster games since 2005, and many figures in the industry say it’s long overdue.



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Quibi Is Shutting Down Barely Six Months After Going Live


Quibi Holdings LLC is shutting down, according to people familiar with the matter, a crash landing for a once-highflying entertainment startup that attracted some of the biggest names in Hollywood and had looked to revolutionize how people consume entertainment.

The streaming service, which served up shows in 5- to 10-minute “chapters” formatted to fit a smartphone screen, has been plagued with problems since its April launch, facing lower-than-expected viewership and a lawsuit from a well-capitalized foe.

On Wednesday, founder Jeffrey Katzenberg called Quibi investors to tell them he is shutting the service down, some of the people said.

Mr. Katzenberg and Chief Executive Meg Whitman decided to shut down the company in an effort to return as much capital to investors as possible instead of trying to prolong the life of the company and risk losing more money, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Employees will be laid off and will be paid a severance, the people said, and the company will explore selling the rights to some of its content to other media and technology firms.

The decision marks a disappointing turn of events for Mr. Katzenberg, a former

Walt Disney Co.

executive and DreamWorks co-founder who pitched the streaming service as a revolutionary new entrant to the video-streaming wars.

Quibi was designed for people who consume entertainment in short increments on their smartphones, but the coronavirus pandemic forced would-be subscribers away from the kinds of on-the-go situations Quibi executives envisioned for its users. Quibi eventually allowed subscribers to watch its shows on their TVs.

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Quibi had its share of skeptics in the media world, since consumers already had free options for short-form video, such as

Alphabet Inc.’s

YouTube. Quibi’s bet was that it could charge subscriptions by creating higher-end content, and it paid handsomely to develop that programming. Some Quibi executives believed the venture could have been a success, if not for the pandemic, with better execution, pointing to the rise of TikTok, people close to the company said. Some of them believed, for example, that Quibi could pivot to a “freemium” model, offering some content for free while making customers pay for the top programming.

Quibi, which cost $4.99 a month, also had to compete with a growing number of rivals, with Walt Disney’s Disney+,

Apple Inc.’s

Apple TV+,

AT&T Inc.’s

HBO Max and

Comcast Corp.’s

Peacock all launching in the past year.

Mr. Katzenberg and Ms. Whitman had raised about $1.75 billion from high-profile investors including Disney, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and AT&T’s WarnerMedia.

The company spent aggressively to develop its content. Its lineup of star-studded programming included a court show featuring Chrissy Teigen, a romantic comedy with Anna Kendrick and an action thriller starring Christoph Waltz and Liam Hemsworth.

Quibi has drawn on the deep Hollywood connections of Mr. Katzenberg, who ran Disney’s movie business, co-founded DreamWorks SKG and led its animation spinoff DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the studio behind “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda.”

The streaming service attracted blue-chip advertisers including

PepsiCo Inc.,

Walmart Inc.

and

Anheuser-Busch InBev SA,

securing about $150 million in ad revenue in the runup to its launch. Those deals came under strain earlier this year amid lower-than-expected viewership for Quibi’s shows, prompting advertisers to defer their payments.

In recent weeks, Quibi hired a restructuring firm, AlixPartners LLP, to evaluate its options, the people said. It recommended the options to the board of directors this week, laying out a list that included shutting the company down.

AlixPartners didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The firm previously handled the bankruptcy of Enron Corp.,

General Motors Co.

and Kmart.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Katzenberg and Ms. Whitman held a conference call with investors to explain the decision to shut the company down. During the call, Mr. Katzenberg told investors that the company decided to return $350 million in capital rather than pursue a new strategy that could have attracted additional subscribers but would have required a hefty investment, according to a person familiar with the call.

The Information earlier reported that Mr. Katzenberg told people in the media industry he may have to shut down the company.

The decision to hire AlixPartners came after starting a process to sell the company, The Wall Street Journal reported. Quibi pitched suitors including NBCUniversal on a sale, according to people familiar with the matter, but would-be buyers were put off by the fact that Quibi doesn’t own many of the shows it puts on its platform.

NBCUniversal declined to comment.

Quibi is also fighting a legal battle with interactive-video company Eko, which claims Quibi is violating its patents and has stolen trade secrets. Hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. is financing the high-stakes patent lawsuit.

The fight centers on a key feature of Quibi’s app that plays different videos for users depending on whether they are holding their phone horizontally or vertically. Quibi has denied infringing on Eko’s patents or stealing trade secrets.

Write to Benjamin Mullin at [email protected], Joe Flint at [email protected] and Maureen Farrell at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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