Saudi Arabia: Billions in deals for U.S. firms
Saudi Arabia greeted President Trump and U.S. CEOs last week “with agreements for deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars,” as Riyadh looks to develop its economy beyond oil, said Matthew Martin in Bloomberg.com. Some 30 CEOs of major U.S. companies traveled to Riyadh with Trump, and inked more than $300 billion worth of potential deals and investments. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund committed $20 billion to investment firm Blackstone Group to help fund U.S. infrastructure projects, and state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco announced a wide-ranging deal with GE worth $15 billion to develop joint ventures in power generation and digital technologies.
“That was the easy part,” said Margherita Stancati and Nicolas Parasie in The Wall Street Journal. But despite last week’s flurry of deal making, the kingdom remains a notoriously difficult place for foreign companies to do business. Challenges include an insular culture that requires personal connections to conduct deals, and a confusing legal landscape where civil law coexists with Islamic sharia law. Saudi Arabia ranks 94th out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. Despite some positive changes, “the current system remains treacherous for foreign investors to navigate,” said Riyadh-based lawyer Christopher Johnson.
Advertising: Google tracks offline buying habits
“Google now knows when its users go to the store and buy stuff,” said Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg in The Washington Post. The search giant said this week that it has begun analyzing billions of creditcard transaction records to show how many sales are generated by its digital ad campaigns, even when purchases are made in a brick-andmortar store. Google is working with unidentified partner companies to access roughly 70 percent of all credit- and debit-card transactions in the U.S., matching them to Google users via complex algorithms. Google says it anonymizes all data to hide the personal identity of shoppers.
Washington: Fiduciary rule moves forward after delay
“A controversial Obama-era rule for retirement advisers” will go into partial effect next month, said Jim Puzzanghera in the Los Angeles Times. The so-called fiduciary rule, which requires retirement advisers to put their clients’ interests first, had been delayed by the Labor Department amid strong opposition from the financial industry. Despite calls to postpone it further, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said he “found no principled legal basis” to do so. Some provisions will now take effect June 9, though a requirement that the fiduciary rule be put into customer contracts won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2018.
Retail: Online sales surge for Walmart
“Walmart has always excelled at selling products in its cavernous stores. It appears to be getting its head around selling online too,” said Rachel Abrams in The New York Times. The retailer reported last week that its e-commerce sales grew 63 percent year over year in the first quarter. “The unexpected leap offered the strongest evidence yet” that Walmart’s aggressive investments in its online business are paying off, including a $3.3 billion acquisition of Jet.com last year. The company now offers 50 million items online, up from 10 million a year ago.
Tech: Uber to repay millions to NYC drivers
“Uber just fessed up to a costly mistake,” said Sara Ashley O’Brien in CNN.com. The ride-hailing giant said this week that it would repay tens of thousands of Uber drivers in New York City, after having miscalculated the commission it was taking after each ride. Uber’s 2014 driver agreement said that the company’s 25 percent commission was to be based on net fare. But the company was wrongly taking commissions based on gross fare, which includes taxes and fees, “thereby taking a larger cut than it was entitled to.” On average, affected drivers will receive $900 each in back pay, including interest. ■