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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

United Technologies is breaking up. General Electric is a shadow of its former self. The great conglomerates of the past, names like ITT and Gulf + Western and Hanson Trust, are dim memories at best.

The bottom line: Maybe the big cloud providers — Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle — are in some way the new conglomerates. They don't own the companies they power, but they deliver impressive and valuable synergies all the same.

The big picture: One of the few conglomerates still alive is Berkshire Hathaway. And it won't long survive the death of its founder, Warren Buffett, who's 88 years old. The other claimants for conglomerate status are the private-equity shops, but they, much like Berkshire Hathaway, are ultimately built on financial engineering rather than genuine economies of scale.

What they're saying: Edward Hadas reckons that conglomerates are far from dead. "Without the ability to bring disparate businesses and skills together, costs in most firms would be higher, revenues lower and many new and improved products would never have been created," he writes for Reuters. "Diversified enterprises, by one name or another, will play a big role in the business world for a long time."

  • Hadas doesn't mention the cloud; he should. The reason to build a conglomerate is to centralize certain skills and apply those skills across multiple business lines. You can do that the laborious way, via acquisition and regular senior-management retreats, or you can just move a large part of your business into a cloud that provides state-of-the-art services on demand.

Go deeper: The end of industrial conglomerates

Go deeper

Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategy

Biden signs executive orders on Jan. 21. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday signed a slew of executive orders to address the coronavirus pandemic, including an interstate face mask mandate and an order to renew supplies of PPE, testing materials and vaccines through the Defense Production Act.

Why it matters: The stakes are highest for Biden’s vaccination effort. Several states cannot keep up with demand.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.