Be the first to know about every new Coronavirus story

One more event this week: the FT Global Boardroom kicks off on Wednesday. DD’s James Fontanella-Khan will host a panel on M&A as part of the proceedings on day two of the conference at 5pm GMT on Thursday. 

To read the full agenda and register for free, go here.

Welcome to the Due Diligence briefing from the Financial Times. Not a subscriber? Sign up here. Drop us a line and join the conversation:

Dealmakers Summit: the highlight reel

What happens when you (virtually) gather more than 50 of the leading M&A, private equity, hedge fund and corporate finance dealmakers to discuss the US election, global pandemic, Brexit and subsequent economic crisis?

A lot of great insight. A couple Peloton sightings. And, obviously, some Spac jokes. 

The latest edition of DD will look at the highlights from our full-day inaugural Dealmakers Summit. 

If you missed your chance to watch the sessions, you can still register to catch all of the action on-demand here.

DD’s Arash Massoudi and Kaye Wiggins

On the economy after Covid:

  • “This is wartime finance on an extraordinary scale,” the FT’s chief economics commentator Martin Wolf observed on the long-term implications of Covid-19, as debt ratios in developed countries will reach levels the world hasn’t seen since the second world war. 

  • Suspicion of big technology companies and the antitrust movement is rising, Wolf added. “And my god, you are seeing it in China where they’re stepping on Ant [Financial].” Watch his keynote presentation here.

Speaking of . . . on what was supposed to be the world’s largest IPO:

  • Chinese regulators’ suspension of Ant’s massive dual initial public offering signals that “everything that operates in China is still going to be regulated by the government, and everyone needs to play within their frameworks”, Gobi PartnersChibo Tang told the FT’s Henny Sender. 

  • For fintech up-and-comers, Tang added, “it’s never too late” to build bridges with Beijing. Ant’s troubles may cause companies to re-examine the “pros and cons of dual listings in both Shanghai and Hong Kong”. Watch the panel here.

 On the Spac boom:

  • “Not to brag but I think DraftKings led to an acceleration of Spacs,” former MGM chief executive turned Spac-promoter Harry Sloan told DD’s Sujeet Indap. Catch up on one of Wall Street’s biggest, and most divisive, trends here.

On post-pandemic M&A:

  • Mergers are the only way forward for oil and gas, Goldman Sachs banker Michael Carr told DD’s James Fontanella-Khan. “This is pretty clear to everyone who participates in that market,” he said.

  • Hellman & Friedman chief executive Patrick Healy told DD’s Arash Massoudi that the buying and selling of companies has been private equity’s “business model forever, and I think if you step back and say, ‘we can actually be thinking like an owner’ . . . that opens up a lot more opportunities.”

  • “I think they played it pretty well,” Healy added of competitors such as KKR, who aggressively snapped up opportunities during the height of the coronavirus economic crisis. Watch the full conversation here.

  • Apollo Global Management head of Europe Rob Seminara said: “We’re assuming flat multiples . . . I’d be nervous on some of these growthier deals about constant multiples on the way out five years from now.” Watch the full private equity panel held by DD’s Kaye Wiggins.

On Bill Ackman’s latest hedge:

  • “I’m long equities and still short investment-grade credit. And I feel very comfortable in that position,” the founder of Pershing Square Capital Management told DD’s Ortenca Aliaj. Read the full story here

  • Ackman predicts that while the economy is set to make a “robust recovery” in the long-term, companies will struggle to pay off their debts stemming from the crisis in the short-term as a potential second lockdown looms.

  • News of a breakthrough in the search for a Covid-19 vaccine is “actually bearish” because it is likely to make people more complacent about wearing masks and seeing the virus as a threat, he added. Watch the keynote interview here.

DD’s Ortenca Aliaj and Bill Ackman

And finally, ending on an excellent note, a word from Silicon Valley:

  • “If there’s a dip, you should buy more,” said GGV Capital managing partner Hans Tung. You heard it here folks. Watch the full discussion with DD’s Miles Kruppa.

Xavier Niel: ‘We are not activists, but rather rebellious shareholders’

There are lots of losers in the battle at Europe’s largest mall operator, Unibail-Rodamco Westfield, and one big winner: telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel. (DD broke down the fight for you last month.)

Legions of short-sellers who faced a mega-squeeze on Tuesday when shareholders sided with an activist campaign by Niel to vote down a proposed €3.5bn capital increase. Among them was D1 Capital Partners, which had a significant 4.4 per cent stake, according to the data group Breakout Point.

Xavier Niel © Reuters

Only a few weeks ago, almost a third of the shares in the heavily indebted owner of Westfield London and Forum Les Halles in Paris were out on loan, making it one of Europe’s most shorted stocks. 

Then management, led by chief executive Christophe Cuvillier, saw its strategy undercut by the company’s own shareholders. Cuvillier refused to say if he would resign, but the activists clearly want his head, as Niel hinted in an interview with the FT’s Leila Abboud.

They mounted a slick activist campaign complete with slides and punchy media interviews, not only killing the share sale but securing themselves three board seats. 

Niel maintains their success was down to doing the hard graft of calling every shareholder who would speak to them. He doesn’t, however, appreciate being lumped in with aggressive US hedge funds: “We are not activists, but rather rebellious shareholders.” 

Initially they did not expect any of the proxy firms to support them, he said, but proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services was eventually won over, providing a key boost.

Conspicuously absent from Unibail’s press release or public comments on Tuesday was any mention that it welcomed the new administrators.

“I told Leon earlier, we have bought ourselves a lot of work,” cracked Niel. “The management still thinks they are right, and this type of battle, especially as public as this one has been, is sure to leave some scars.”

Job moves

  • British tycoon Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance appointed a judge of the supreme court of India, SJ Mukhopadhaya, and former first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, to its newly created global advisory board. The move is controversial due to Mukhopadhaya’s overseeing of court cases involving GFG entities, and alleged conflicts of interests stemming from Jones’s former government position. More here.

  • Law firm Reed Smith has hired Christopher Jackson and Adam Longney as partners in its London aviation group. Both join from REN Legal.

  • Craig Stewart, former chief counsel to the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, has rejoined Arnold & Porter’s white collar defence and investigations practice. 

  • Pan-African private equity group DPI promoted three new senior partners: west Africa deal lead Babacar Ka, east Africa deal lead Takudzwa Mutasa, and portfolio manager Marc Stoneham*.

  • Latham & Watkins has hired Kaede Toh as a partner in its litigation and trial department as well as its white collar defence and investigations practice. She joins the Tokyo office from Ropes & Gray.

  • New York Advisory group PJ Solomon promoted Kenneth Baronoff to the newly created role of president. He first joined the company in 1999 and has worked as chief operating officer since 2010. 

Smart reads

Arms length Wall Street overwhelmingly backed Joe Biden on his march to the White House. But executives in the Democratic camp may not enjoy the same proximity to the Oval Office as certain financiers do in the current administration as the party’s progressive wing pushes for separation of finance and state. (Wall Street Journal)

Missing in action Unanswered questions continue to swirl around Wirecard’s gobsmacking $2bn fraud. The man that can answer them — Jan Marsalek, who went from chief operating officer of the fallen German payments group to Interpol’s most wanted list — remains nowhere to be found. (Bloomberg)

Full throttle 2020 has been a wild ride so far, especially for Elon Musk. The Twitter-prone chief executive became the third-richest man alive, launched two astronauts into orbit, and led Tesla to become the world’s most valuable carmaker. What’s next? (Vanity Fair)

News round-up

SoftBank’s Vision Fund unit considers move to Abu Dhabi from UK (FT) 

US banks in line for windfall after Covid-19 vaccine progress (FT)

Huawei to sell smartphone unit for $15 billion to Shenzhen government, Digital China, others (Reuters) 

Nikola and founder Trevor Milton subpoenaed by US justice department (FT)

ION agrees to sell Broadway’s bond business to win UK approval (FT) 

China draws up first antitrust rules to curb power of tech companies (FT)

Endeavour in Teranga merger talks as West African mining deals hot up (Reuters) 

Spotify continues podcast push with Megaphone deal (FT)

Bank of Japan offers to reward regional banks for mergers or cost-cuts (FT)

SoftBank jumps into e-scooters with $250m Tier Mobility deal (FT)

Due Diligence is written by Arash Massoudi, Kaye Wiggins and Robert Smith in London, Javier Espinoza in Brussels, James Fontanella-Khan, Ortenca Aliaj, Sujeet Indap, Eric Platt, Mark Vandevelde and Francesca Friday in New York and Miles Kruppa in San Francisco. Please send feedback to

*This article has been amended since initial publication to state that the new DPI partners were promoted.

Get alerts on Mergers & Acquisitions when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article