illusion of security?
Gun control advocates are today asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and regulate the guns industry like it did tobacco, alleging that gun manufacturers are engaging in deceptive advertising practices.
The petition, first reported by DealBook, is the latest salvo aimed at the marketing tactics of an industry largely shielded from liability for damages caused by its products under federal law. Groups calling for FTC action include Brady, the Giffords Law Center, March for Our Lives and the FACT Coalition.
The petitioners say that arms marketing promotes an illusion of safety. Americans have been “misled into believing that gun ownership is a surefire way to protect their homes and families,” they argue. The CDC reported 45,222 deaths from gun-related injuries last year. The FTC “effectively gave the gun industry a free pass,” say the petitioners.
Proponents have already asked the FTC to investigate the gun industrybeginning in 1996. The FTC may address or ignore this latest petition, which comes as the Biden administration has expressed support for more transparency into gunmakers’ activities and state-level lawsuits have begun raising industry barriers to break through litigation.
In February, the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting settled a $73 million lawsuit against Remington alleging that the gunmaker’s aggressive marketing violated Connecticut law by alarming men such as offering firearms to whoever was responsible for the massacre. The settlement opens internal company documents for scrutiny, which would offer a rare glimpse into how gunmakers like Remington develop their marketing messages. President Biden described it as a move to “hold gun manufacturers accountable for the manufacture of weapons of war and the irresponsible marketing of those firearms.”
Last year, a New Jersey judge ruled in favor of the attorney general in a lawsuit against Smith & Wesson over its advertising practices and ordered the company to release internal documents. The ruling was recently overturned, leaving the state’s lawsuit intact but the release of documents uncertain. Smith & Wesson said in a filing that the lawsuit was aimed “to suppress and punish lawful speech about gun ownership in order to advance an anti-Second Amendment agenda.”
The FTC’s enforcement of the Federal Consumer Protection Act could draw on these state precedents, like Connecticut’s consumer law that allowed the Sandy Hook families to sue. “If a business violates consumer protection laws with false advertising, that’s not a protected activity,” said David Pucino of the Giffords Law Center. “You’re breaking the law.”
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENS
Shell will suffer up to $5 billion in damage from its withdrawal from Russia. This morning, the British oil giant detailed the size of the writedown resulting from its exit from joint ventures with Gazprom and other operations in Russia. It’s big, but high energy prices are expected to support Shell’s earnings this year, with analysts forecasting 2022 sales to top $30 billion.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen talks about crypto. Today, in her first speech, which will focus on the regulation of digital assets, she will “call for a consistent and comprehensive policy framework that encourages responsible innovation of digital assets and appropriately assesses and mitigates the risks they can pose.” President Biden’s Recent Executive Order to Underpin Crypto.
Central bankers are betting on higher interest rates. That’s in the minutes of the March Fed meeting “lots” Officials would have preferred a bigger rate hike than the agreed quarter-point hike, but held back over concerns about the fallout from the war in Ukraine. Markets now expect the Fed to make a half-point hike in May and possibly June.
Corporate bankruptcy filings are at their lowest in over a decade. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, just 87 US companies filed for bankruptcy in the first quarter of the year, the lowest first-quarter total in at least 13 years. Businesses have benefited from pandemic stimulus and cheap financing, but rising interest rates could put more strain on balance sheets in the coming quarters.
Fanatics raises $1.5 billion in fresh funds. The round, which values the fast-growing sporting goods company at $27 billion, included investments from multiple leagues, such as the NFL and MLB, as well as player associations and team owners.
Insure Elon Musk
Twitter’s investors seem convinced that Elon Musk can make the social media company better. The company’s stock is up 30 percent since it was announced that Musk had bought a large stake in Twitter and would be joining the board. That added about $9 billion to the company’s market value. But if Musk becomes a director at Twitter, he may also come with some costs.
What will happen to Twitter’s insurance premiums? Most public companies have policies that protect directors and officers from personal liability, known as D&O insurance. Musk’s previous legal battles include a settlement with the SEC over a market-moving tweet about Tesla (which Musk is trying to scrap) and a defamation lawsuit brought by a British caver whom Musk tweeted as a “pedo guy” (which Musk won ). In purchasing his stake in Twitter, Musk appears to have submitted the required disclosures late and may have used the wrong form to begin with. “I would be very concerned if I were the insurance company asked to underwrite and provide them,” Peter Taffae, a managing partner at D&O insurance broker Executive Perils, told DealBook.
In the past, Tesla had to reckon with high premiums because of Musk. After Musk settled with the SEC, Tesla said in a regulatory filing that insurers charged “disproportionately high premiums” for D&O insurance. Instead, Musk briefly insured the company himself. Tesla paid him $3 million for a three-month term before signing a new policy with “third-party providers.”
Twitter had its own problems. Last year, the company reached an $800 million settlement with shareholders in a lawsuit alleging that Twitter overinflated its user base. “Twitter had its own D&O challenges even before Musk came along,” said Priya Cherian Huskins, a partner at Woodruff Sawyer. “The addition of Musk to the board may be a great thing for investors, but the calculus for insurers is different.”
“By the way, Amazon, here we come. Clock.”
– President Biden, in remarks to a conference of unionized workers. Days earlier, workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island voted to form a union, the first in the US at the e-commerce giant. (The White House later said the president was merely expressing his general support for unions.) Meanwhile, the success of the independent, crowdfunded union initiative at Amazon has traditional unions reconsider their tactics.
Many public companies in the US are approaching the deadline for filing their annual proxy statements, which, among other things, detail how much top executives were paid in the previous year. And while wages are rising for the average worker, many CEOs have received much bigger raises.
This week, the Wall Street Journal ran the numbers from the companies that have reported so far and found that the average CEO in the S&P 500 received an 11 percent pay rise over the past year, to nearly 190 times what the average CEO received workers earned. In a year of pandemic disruption, when many people’s wages have lagged inflation, executive pay packages are likely to come under scrutiny, particularly by those looking to increase taxes on the wealthiest.
Here are some of the biggest CEO compensation packages of 2021 to date, which include the value of stock-based compensation that may not be realized if performance targets are not met:
Joseph Bae and Scott NuttallCo-CEOs of KKR
Pay: $560 million (Bae) and $523 million (Nuttal)
Notable achievement: Acquisition of company founders
Stock performance: up 84 percent
Result: increase of 133 percent
David Zaslav, Discovery’s CEO
Pay: $247 million
Notable Achievement: Closing deal to merge with WarnerMedia
Share performance: minus 22 percent
Result: decrease of 17 percent
David Baszucki, CEO of Roblox
Pay: $233 million
Notable Achievement: Roblox taken public
Share performance: up 130 percent (vs. reference price for direct listing in March)
Profit: Loss of $492 million versus a loss of $253 million last year
READ THE SPEED
What a ban on Russian coal could mean for Europe. (New York)
Russia’s two richest men, Vladimir Potanin and Leonid Mikhelson, and its largest bank, Sberbank, have been targeted in recent rounds of international sanctions. The US also accused a Russian oligarch of “systematically” violating sanctions. (Bloomberg, New York)
“Facial Recognition Goes to War” (NYT)
Follow The Times live blog and updated maps for the latest developments.
Berkshire Hathaway acquired a stake in HP valued at more than $4.2 billion, causing the tech company’s stock to surge. (Reuters)
A bidding war is brewing over Benetton family-controlled Italian infrastructure company Atlantia as Blackstone and Spanish billionaire Florentino Perez are said to be reviewing bids. (Blumberg)
Canada approved Equinor’s $12 billion offshore oil project in Bay du Nord in Newfoundland, angering some environmental groups. (Blumberg)
The Supreme Court has reinstated Trump-era environmental rules that limit states’ role in enforcing the Clean Water Act. (New York)
Can the Fed shrink its balance sheet without causing market chaos? (FT)
The SEC is investigating how Amazon disclosed some details of its business practices. (WSJ)
Oil executives faced questions from lawmakers over price gouging in a House hearing. (New York)
“What you need to know about the French presidential election” (NYT)
The best of the rest
“How Many Billionaires Are There Anyway?” (NYT Magazine)
At least 50 gig economy drivers have been killed at work since 2017. (NYT)
How LinkedIn’s “career break” feature could support nursing. (WaPo)
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Type in “a teddy bear playing a trumpet underwater” and DALL-E, a Microsoft-powered AI imaging tool, will draw it. (New York)
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