Regulators Force Another Microsoft Split


Microsoft is separating Teams, its popular video and chat app, from its Office software suite in markets around the world, broadening a split that began in the European Union last fall.

It appears to be the latest effort by the software giant to head off investigations by global antitrust enforcers as regulators examine the power of Big Tech.

Rivals have complained about the Teams-Office bundle for years. Microsoft first added the video and document collaboration program to its business software suite in 2017, and saw Teams’s popularity soar after the coronavirus pandemic unleashed a boom in hybrid and remote working.

At the height of the lockdown in 2020, Slack filed a complaint with the European Commission accusing Microsoft of anticompetitive behavior by bundling Teams with Office. (Three months later, Slack agreed to sell itself to Salesforce for $27.7 billion.) And last summer, Eric Yuan, the C.E.O. of Zoom, called on the F.T.C. to follow the E.U. in investigating the Teams-Office tie-up.

It’s unclear if Microsoft’s decision will help it avoid an E.U. fine, which could cost the company up to 10 percent of global revenue. The company told Reuters that the move “addresses feedback from the European Commission by providing multinational companies more flexibility when they want to standardize their purchasing across geographies.”

It comes as tech behemoths are facing investigations by regulators worldwide. Last month, the Justice Department sued Apple over its tight control of the iOS operating system, while Google is awaiting a judge’s verdict in a U.S. lawsuit over its search monopoly.

And Microsoft has drawn scrutiny over its investments in A.I. start-ups like OpenAI and the French company Mistral.

The move is reminiscent of Microsoft’s unbundling of Windows in the 2000s, after a bruising antitrust battle with the Justice Department over the tech company’s efforts to shut rivals out of its platform.

But it’s unclear how consequential this breakup will be. Shares in Microsoft rose on Monday despite the news, as analysts questioned whether the move would mean much for the tech giant’s bottom line. Data from the research firm Sensor Tower showed that use of Teams stayed relatively stable even after the program was cleaved out of Office in the E.U.

That suggests rivals may not experience a surge in new customers. (Shares in Zoom fell nearly 1 percent on Monday.) “Teams is so embedded into workflows that I don’t think this has that same impact,” Rishi Jaluria, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, told Reuters.

Donald Trump posts a $175 million bond to avert seizure of his assets. In securing the bond for his civil fraud case, the former president avoided paying a $454 million penalty while he appeals the judgment. Separately, shares in Trump Media & Technology Group plunged 21 percent on Monday, after the parent company of the Truth Social online platform disclosed just $4 million in revenue for last year.

Disney is said to be winning its proxy fight against the financier Nelson Peltz. The entertainment giant’s slate of board nominees has secured the backing of big shareholders, including BlackRock and T. Rowe Price, ahead of the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday. More than half of Disney’s voting shares have been accounted for, but a big question is how the company’s unusually high percentage of individual shareholders will vote.

A regulator is reportedly scrutinizing investments by Vanguard, BlackRock and State Street in U.S. banks. The F.D.I.C. is examining whether the big money managers are maintaining a sufficiently passive role in managing their stakes, according to The Wall Street Journal. Such firms are exempt from current rules that require regulatory approval to own more than 10 percent of a bank — if they don’t exert influence on management or boards.

One of the biggest players in the booming business of sports just got bigger: The private equity firm Arctos Partners has raised another $4.1 billion to do more deals.

The fund-raising shows investor appetite for sports deals is growing as competition ramps up between private equity firms and Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Arctos is one of the busiest sports deal makers. Since its founding in 2019, the firm has invested in Formula One, basketball, baseball and soccer clubs. They include the Utah Jazz and Fenway Sports Group.

Sports deals are booming on the back of the skyrocketing value for media rights. John Malone’s Liberty Media, which owns F1, said on Monday that it had bought MotoGP, the motorcycle racing championship, for €4.2 billion ($4.5 billion).

The deal follows a record year for sports M.& A., with transaction values up 27 percent to roughly $25 billion in 2023, according to Bloomberg calculations. That included big investments by Arctos in the Qatar-owned French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and the Aston Martin F1 team.

Sovereign investors are the big new players. Saudi Arabia is pouring billions into soccer and golf, and may be looking at tennis next. And Qatar last year bought a stake in the owner of Washington’s professional basketball and hockey teams.

Arctos sees itself as part of a new wave of long-term deal makers that treat teams like an asset class. As sports leagues have loosened their rules to allow for institutional investors, firms like Blue Owl and Dynasty Equity say they are committed to long-term investments that aren’t tied to economic volatility.

“We’re not a control buyer. And we’re not a leveraged buyout fund,” Ian Charles, an Arctos co-founder, told DealBook.

Arctos played down the rising competition. Charles told DealBook that sports leagues put heavy restrictions on allowing state-backed investment, if they allow them at all. He declined to say whether Arctos had raised money from sovereign wealth funds, though the company said in a statement that its latest fund-raising round included pension funds and “global wealth platforms.”

Ray Dalio gave up day-to-day management of Bridgewater Associates 18 months ago. Since then, Nir Bar Dea, his successor atop the giant hedge fund, has been under pressure to show that one of the world’s most successful investment firms can maintain its dominance.

Results from the first three months of 2024 suggest that Bridgewater is performing well. But can changes to how the firm is run keep it in the top tier of industry performers?

Its flagship Pure Alpha fund is up 15.9 percent year to date, according to a notice sent to investors on Monday that DealBook has reviewed. That’s up more than sevenfold over the Bloomberg Macro Hedge Fund Index, which tracks funds with a similar strategy.

Pure Alpha is now up 38.4 percent, net of fees, since the creation of Bridgewater’s investment committee in August 2020.

The hard part is maintaining that performance. For much of 2022 and 2023, Pure Alpha has performed well — only to tumble precipitously at the end of each of those years. Bridgewater as a whole lost $2.6 billion last year, one of just two top-tier firms to lose money, according to the research firm LCH Investments.

That continued a string of poor performance in the 2010s that tarnished Bridgewater’s reputation as a profit machine. (It also raised questions about Dalio’s famously idiosyncratic and brutally blunt management style, including baseball cards that featured ratings of each worker based on colleagues’ assessments of them.)

Bar Dea has sought to make Bridgewater more flexible in how it arrives at investment decisions, Bloomberg reports. That includes increasing the number of people who review those moves and pledges to embrace artificial intelligence.

Will that be enough to keep clients happy? Some unidentified investors told Bloomberg that they were considering cutting ties if the firm didn’t pick up its performance.

That said, Bar Dea is reportedly planning to shrink Pure Alpha and return more money to clients — a move that could make the fund more nimble.

Ken Griffin. The Citadel founder used his annual letter to investors to warn about his growing worries on debt and share his view that the economy will grow only modestly this year as the Fed tries to bring down inflation to its 2 percent target.

Investor enthusiasm around artificial intelligence has added trillions in market value to a select few tech companies. But its broader economic impact has been harder to measure.

Economists are divided on the A.I. productivity conundrum. On earnings calls, business leaders have been more eager to share with Wall Street how they plan to use the technology in their operations. But whether these tools will achieve widespread productivity gains for the economy is less clear.

“The enthusiasm about large language models and ChatGPT has gone a bit overboard,” the Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon told The Times. Others are more hopeful, including Erik Brynjolfsson at Stanford University, who has bet Gordon $400 that productivity will take off this decade.

While that wager catches the attention of some in academia, a parade of companies is putting the technology to use:

  • Walmart has built a generative A.I. chat bot for internal use that answers common H.R. questions including “Do I have dental insurance?”

  • Abercrombie & Fitch has turned to generative A.I. to brainstorm ideas for clothing designs and to write blurbs for its website and app.

Will such use cases impact workers? David Autor, a labor economist at M.I.T. whose work has focused on how technology can erode earning potential, argues it might not be all bad news. The technology could help people with less expertise to do more valuable work, lifting the middle class. Critics are unconvinced.

  • In other A.I. news: OpenAI introduced a new tool that mimics human voices with high accuracy, showing how the technology is quickly expanding beyond text, but it could also pose a new misinformation threat.



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