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DealBook Briefing: The Agony of Elon Musk

DealBook Briefing: The Agony of Elon Musk


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Tesla’s leader isn’t sleeping well

The carmaker’s board and investors have been worried about Elon Musk’s erratic behavior for some time — and especially after his out-of-the-blue tweet about potentially taking the company private. In an interview with the NYT, Mr. Musk blames exhaustion:

At multiple points in an hourlong interview with The New York Times, he choked up, noting that he nearly missed his brother’s wedding this summer and spent his birthday holed up in Tesla’s offices as the company raced to meet elusive production targets on a crucial new model.

He also laid out a timeline of how he ended up sending that tweet. One tidbit: He bumped up the price tag, which he’d calculated at $419 a share, to $420 because it was more auspicious. (He added, “I was not on weed, to be clear.” But his use of Ambien and, occasionally, recreational drugs worries his board.)

The conversation isn’t letting up. Kara Swisher of NYT Opinion calls him the “id of tech,” while Jonathan Guthrie of Lex compares him to a truculent teenager.

For his part, Mr. Musk has no regrets: “Why would I?”

In other Tesla news: A second former employee has turned whistle-blower, alleging that the company’s security team spied on employees and hid thefts. And three banks — Lazard, Centerview Partners and Evercore — are vying to advise the board on that take-private offer.

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Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin in New York, and Michael J. de la Merced and Amie Tsang in London.

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Googlers want a say on that secret China project

Some 1,400 employees have signed a letter saying that the tech giant’s work on a censored Chinese search engine raises “urgent moral and ethical issues.” Their demands include more transparency and, crucially, being allowed to participate in ethical reviews of future products.

Google’s C.E.O., Sundar Pichai, said at a staff meeting yesterday that the company isn’t close to unveiling that search product. Yet he added, “If we were to do our mission well, we are to think seriously about how to do more in China.”

Does Bayer wish it never met Monsanto?

Bayer closed its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto two months ago and only began integrating the businesses this week. But Monsanto’s legal troubles have already driven Bayer shares to a five-year low. It has lost $18 billion in market value this week.

The problem is Monsanto’s signature weedkiller, Roundup:

■ A California jury awarded a terminally ill groundskeeper $289 million because of his exposure to the product.

■ California’s Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to have its main ingredient removed from a list of carcinogens.

The good news, says Bayer, is that it’s prepared to fight, and can now become “actively involved” in the legal cases. It’s unclear whether that will stem the flood of red ink from one of the most immediately value-destructive takeovers in recent memory.

March of the pension-pot millionaires

At a time when many Americans fret about their retirement savings, Fidelity says that in the second quarter the number of its 401(k) accounts with more than $1 million jumped 42 percent from a year ago.

To be clear, that number is 168,000, and Fidelity has 16.1 million customers. But it’s another sign of the U.S.’s relative economic health. (One more: Fewer Americans are borrowing from their retirement savings.)

As worries grow that the stock market’s hot streak will end soon, however, so should fears of that paper wealth largely evaporating, as it has done in previous transitions from boom to bust.

Facebook’s moneymaker is a potent political weapon

The Silicon Valley behemoth has made billions through “microtargeting” technology, which lets it target ads to as few as 20 specific people. But government officials, researchers and ad executives are calling for restrictions on microtargeted political advertising, which they say can polarize and manipulate voters.

More from Natasha Singer of the NYT:

“It has essentially weaponized ad technology designed for consumer products and services,” said Sarah Golding, the president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, an industry organization in Britain. Her group recently called for a moratorium on political microtargeting. “There is a danger that every single person can get their own concerns played back to them,” she said.

Facebook executives say they’re taking steps to curb abuse, including tougher verification standards for political ads. Critics worry that isn’t enough — and the midterms are coming.

More in Facebook news: A lawsuit claims that the company has misled advertisers about its audience size to get them to buy more ads.

Trump wants to sue opioid companies

President Trump escalated his rhetoric on America’s opioid crisis yesterday, telling Attorney General Jeff Sessions to bring a “major” federal lawsuit against makers of the abused drugs. It comes after the government’s push to reduce opioid prescriptions and expand availability of overdose treatments.

Drug makers’ stocks didn’t move much, perhaps because no one’s yet certain the lawsuit will happen.

The OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is preparing for pain anyway. It has reportedly hired the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell for financial restructuring advice, amid a wave of lawsuits, according to Reuters.

Love in the time of dating apps

We’re relying on a handful of companies like Tinder and China’s Tantan to set up more and more matches, The Economist writes in its latest issue on modern love:

That hands a small number of coders, tweaking the algorithms that determine who sees whom across the virtual bar, tremendous power to engineer mating outcomes. In authoritarian societies especially, the prospect of algorithmically arranged marriages ought to cause some disquiet. Competition offers some protection against such a possibility; so too might greater transparency over the principles used by dating apps to match people up.

Revolving door

Benjamin Smith has been hired as Air France-KLM’s new C.E.O.

Patricia Little will retire as Hershey’s C.F.O. next year.

The speed read

Deals

Volvo Cars is said to be moving forward with an I.P.O., with hopes of a $30 billion valuation. (FT)

DoorDash’s latest financing round more than doubled the food delivery company’s valuation, to $4 billion. (Fortune)

The hedge fund manager Cliff Asness defends stock buybacks. (WSJ)

Politics and policy

Omarosa Manigault Newman was offered a $15,000-a-month job to stay quiet about her time in the Trump administration, according to a new recording. (NYT)

The Trump administration’s push against Obama-era energy regulations depends on questionable math. (Politico)

Robert Mueller’s prosecutors are keeping even their Shake Shack orders secret. (NYT)

More people in Britain now think Brexit will harm the National Health Service than help it, a poll found. (Business Insider)

Trade

President Trump says he’s in no hurry to rewrite Nafta. (WSJ)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin threatened yet further sanctions on Turkey. (Politico)

Britain wants to retain existing trade agreements after Brexit. It’s likely to struggle. (Bloomberg)

Elon Musk’s Boring Company wants tariff relief. (Bloomberg)

Tech

Kroger is testing driverless deliveries in a suburb of Phoenix. (AP)

An Australian teenager is accused of breaking into Apple’s network and downloading sensitive data. (The Age)

The chip maker Nvidia’s dominance in cryptocurrency gear appears to be waning. (WSJ)

A.I. still isn’t that intelligent. (Bloomberg View)

Best of the rest

The F.D.A. has approved a generic competitor to the EpiPen. (NYT)

“Crazy Rich Asians” reflects a racial shift in the 1 percent. (FT)

Netflix has signed Kenya Barris, creator of ABC’s “Black-ish,” to a production deal. (NYT)

It’s summer camp, but for corporate retreats. (Fortune)

Thanks for reading! See you on Monday.

You can find live updates throughout the day at nytimes.com/dealbook.

We’d love your feedback. Please email thoughts and suggestions to bizday@nytimes.com.



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