Axios Closer

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January 18, 2022

🎁 Hello ... It's our birthday!

Well, not our birthday. Axios turns 5 today!

Today's newsletter is 693 words, a 2½-minute read.

🔔 The dashboard: The S&P 500 plunged 1.8% as investors continue to reevaluate their bets in a new interest-rate environment.

  • Biggest gainer? Activision Blizzard (+25.9%) on news of its acquisition by Microsoft for $68.7 billion in cash. (More below)
  • Biggest decliner? Moderna (-8.9%) and other vaccine makers fell after a clinical trial found that a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine didn’t prevent omicron infection.

1 big thing: Airlines fear 5G

cell tower with lock around it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pressure from airlines and air cargo carriers once again slowed 5G expansion plans in the U.S., Hope writes. 

Why it matters: The country’s already-strained air transport sector (from the Boeing 737 MAX crisis to the pandemic) can’t afford more disruptions.

  • Some 85% of all presently registered aircraft or rotorcraft could be impacted by the deployment of 5G technology, Robert Mann Jr., an airline industry consultant, tells Axios. 

Catch up quick: AT&T and Verizon will delay activating 5G signals near certain airports.

  • On Monday, nearly a dozen airline CEOs objected to the deployment of the cellular technology scheduled for Wednesday. 
  • The group said in a letter to four federal agencies that going ahead would cause “catastrophic disruption” and “economic calamity.”

The big picture: The use of 5G C-Band technology could interfere with key flight instruments and impact low-visibility flights, the Federal Aviation Administration has warned

  • As a result, the FAA put additional restrictions on aircraft flying into certain airports, particularly during bad weather.

Threat level: "Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," the airlines wrote.

What to watch: President Biden weighed in on the agreement to delay saying it will "avoid potentially devastating disruptions" to travel while still allowing "more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled."

The bottom line: The airline industry is one "that relies on the presumption of 100% safety as its basis for existence," says Mann.

  • That's now going up against a telecom industry that wants to “see a return on its $81 billion investment in 5G in part by helping people download movies faster,” he adds.

2. Charted: $4 gasoline closer to reality

Data: Oil Price Information Service; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

Oil prices reached a seven-year high today in intraday trading amid an upswing in demand and geopolitical concerns surrounding Russia, Nathan writes.

The big picture: $4-per-gallon gasoline is a possibility in May or June if oil reaches $100 per barrel, GasBuddy petroleum analyst Patrick De Haan tells Axios.

What we're watching: If the standoff between Russia and Ukraine deteriorates, economic sanctions are likely to ensue, leading to further price spikes.

3. What's happening

🛢️ ExxonMobil is switching gears. After previously resisting it, the oil giant is committing to net-zero emissions by 2050. (Axios)

❗️Billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya is in hot water for saying “nobody cares” about the Chinese government’s abuse of the Uyghur people. (CNBC)

4. A $69 billion reputation rehab

A man in a white shirt and jeans strolls on a sidewalk alongside a bike rack.

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick in July 2019. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Microsoft’s $69 billion deal to buy Activision Blizzard sets the stage for the gaming giant to remove its sexual misconduct scandal from the spotlight, business ethicists say.

Why it matters: Mergers and acquisitions come with cultural shake-ups — and that’s precisely what Activision needs, Nathan writes.

Flashback: The company is accused of failing to address incidents of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination.

  • Its stock has fallen by about 10% since allegations were publicized in July, making it a cheaper acquisition target.

Worth noting: Microsoft's gaming division has built a positive reputation through its work on accessibility and the promotion of an inclusive gaming environment, writes Stephen Totilo, co-author of Axios Gaming.

What they're saying: "It is an opportunity for a reset," Peter Jaworski, a Georgetown University professor of business ethics, tells Axios.

The bottom line: "Your reputation disappears at the end of your independent existence," says Charles Elson, corporate governance professor at the University of Delaware.

Go deeper: California sues Activision Blizzard over unequal pay, “sexist culture”

5. Black diamond, E.T.

A woman holds a shiny black rock.

"The Enigma," a 555.55-carat black diamond said to be from outer space, will be auctioned off by Sotheby's. Photo: Neville Hopwood/Getty Images for Sotheby's Dubai

A black diamond deemed not of this world is going up for sale, Nathan writes.

Driving the news: Sotheby's announced it's auctioning off the 555.55-carat gemstone, saying "The Enigma" is likely extraterrestrial, NPR reports.

  • Here on Earth, black diamonds are rare as it is. This one? It's in its own stratosphere. "The cosmic origin theory is based on their carbon isotopes and high hydrogen content," NPR says.

Our thought bubble: Sounds like a Valentine's Day gift waiting to happen.

6. What they're saying

"Workers demanding more from their employers is an essential feature of effective capitalism. ... Companies that deliver are reaping the rewards."
— BlackRock CEO Larry Fink in a letter to fellow CEOs on how being "woke" can co-exist with capitalism