Beyond parody? Rees-Mogg hunts for ‘Brexit opportunities and government efficiency’

Planet Business: Brexiteer’s new gig; crypto crime; and a bitter-sweet subscription

Image of the week: Tap dance

In a week in which Boris Johnson appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency – Brexit opportunities not being plentiful enough to command a full-time brief – it seems an opportune time to check in on how things are going for Brexit's beleaguered frontline: lorry drivers. Not great. Here they are queueing for the Port of Dover in Kent as a special scheme called the Dover Traffic Access Protocol (TAP), which obliges port-bound lorries to queue in the left motorway lane to prevent local congestion, was activated earlier this week, as indeed it has been more than 20 times in 2022. Some blame the backlogs on a rise in freight traffic. Sleep-deprived, paperwork-burdened drivers blame Brexit. So what of Rees-Mogg's new gig? It's hard to better the verdict of former Financial Times editor Lionel Barber, who branded it "beyond parody".

In numbers: Crypto crime

$3.6 billion
Value of bitcoin seized by US authorities this week as they arrested two people in connection with cryptocurrency stolen during a 2016 hack of the Bitfinex exchange.

$71 million
Value at the time of the 119,754 bitcoin that Ilya "Dutch" Lichtenstein and his wife, Heather Morgan, allegedly conspired to launder. US deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco said their arrests and the seizure proved that cryptocurrency was "not a safe haven for criminals".

$4.5 billion
Current estimated value of the stolen bitcoin. Lichtenstein and Morgan, who also goes by the pseudonym Razzlekhan, are accused of funnelling the proceeds into everything from gold and non-fungible tokens to a $500 Walmart gift card.


Getting to know: Jason Kilar

Jason Kilar, chief executive of AT&T-owned WarnerMedia, isn't popular with everybody right now. That some anchors at Warner's CNN are unhappy with him because their president, Jeff Zucker, had to resign (after failing to disclose a relationship with the news network's marketing chief) is just one headache. Another is the ongoing backlash to "Project Popcorn", Kilar's strategy to simultaneously release a string of films in cinemas and on HBO Max throughout 2021 in a pandemic measure that just happened to boost HBO Max's subscriber numbers. Warner Bros has already had to pay out millions to companies that would have profited from the sacrificed box office revenue, and now Village Roadshow, the Australian co-producer of The Matrix Resurrections, is suing it, claiming the film's release date was moved forward solely "to create a desperately needed wave of year-end HBO Max premium subscriptions". It may not be such bad news for Kilar, after all, that when regulators clear WarnerMedia's merger with Discovery, he is set to be out of a job.

The list: Peloton woes

At-home fitness company Peloton has laid off 2,800 employees (charmingly giving them a one-year Peloton subscription as part of their severance package) and brought in a new chief executive, while its shares languish at a fifth of their record high. What’s gone wrong?

1. Pandemic stock. With gyms closed during lockdowns and even exercising outside complicated by Covid, Peloton spun its way to becoming the ultimate pandemic stock. Now the home-exercise converts of 2020 have reverted back to whatever they were doing, or not doing, before.

2. Limited market. With prices for its bikes starting from £1,550 (€1,840) and the cost of monthly membership separate, joining Peloton is not cheap, and equipment upgrades are likely to be infrequent. Luckily, the company has never shipped to the Republic, making it easier to avoid temptation.

3. Over-optimistic management. Activist investor Blackwells Capital says former chief executive John Foley, now its executive chairman, managed Peloton with "unbridled optimism rather than discipline", which, to be fair, sounds appropriate for an exercise company.

4. Bad publicity. Not one but two characters on mainstream US TV shows have recently been depicted having heart attacks, one of them fatal, after using Peloton bikes. The good news is this won’t happen when everyone turns them into makeshift coat stands.

5. Ill-advised advertising. Before the pandemic, Peloton inadvertently suggested its bikes made awful Christmas presents in a notorious ad showing a man gifting one to his exhausted and terrified-looking girlfriend.