Google's big bets, backstop circles and the vinyl fan buying HMV

Planet Business: Get to know vinyl lover Doug Putman and review the week in numbers

Backstopping down? British prime minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street en route to Belfast.  Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP

Backstopping down? British prime minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street en route to Belfast. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP

 

Image of the week:

Backstop right now

It was all the “Bs” this week for UK prime minister Theresa May as she escaped from behind the bars of Downing Street on Tuesday to make her way to Belfast, where business people not affiliated to the DUP gave her some negative feedback on her recent parliamentary U-turn on the backstop. It prompted her to move seamlessly from placating the hardcore Leaver wing of her party to assuring her non-DUP audience in the North that she didn’t want to remove the backstop, merely to reform it. This was news to everyone in Westminster, who had been under the impression she was on her way to Brussels on Thursday to waffle valiantly with Jean-Claude Juncker about vague “alternative arrangements” to the backstop. Sooner or later, we’re going to need a full stop.

In numbers:

Alphabet bets

$1.3 billion

Operating loss recorded in the fourth quarter by Google parent Alphabet’s “Other Bets” division, which includes driverless car company Waymo.

98,771

Number of employees at Alphabet at the end of 2018, up by more than a fifth on a year earlier.

$109 billion

Amount of cash that Alphabet has on its books, prompting speculation that it could be in the market to acquire one or more new bets, possibly in the cloud business.

Getting to know:

Doug Putman

Doug Putman (34) is a Canadian vinyl lover and retail entrepreneur whose company Sunrise Records has just fended off Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley to buy HMV in a move that will keep about 100 of its shops in Britain open – though 27 shops, including the Oxford Street original established in 1921, will close because the rents are too high. “We know the physical media business is here to stay,” says Putman, who likens the process of shopping for records to a “treasure hunt” and believes shops should offer a certain depth of stock – which hasn’t always been the experience of the HMV fan throughout its long history. Putman’s UK move is a reprise of his Canadian one: Sunrise Records had five stores when he bought it in 2014, and it now has 84, with most of the expansion coming when he snapped up HMV’s Canadian outlets after the company there hit the skids. Can he make this encore work too?

The list:

Anticipated IPOs

The unicorns are going public. It’s set to be a big year for initial public offerings (IPOs), with a group of private companies with valuations of more than $1 billion – known sceptically for some years now as “unicorns” – among those racing to list their shares before something bad happens to spoil the party.

1. Slack Technologies. The workplace messaging service with seemingly infinite channels, groups and message options this week filed a confidential notice on its proposed stock listing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

2. Uber. The unicorn with the highest valuation, by some distance, got the necessary paperwork organised in December.

3. Lyft. Uber’s ride-sharing rival, which has yet to expand outside North America, could yet beat it to their mutual stock market destination.

4. Airbnb. The accommodation platform will be hoping its move to go public doesn’t pick up too many negative reviews.

5. The We Company (formerly WeWork). “Do what you love” insists the biggest occupier of office space in cities like New York and London. What it loves doing most, it seems, is making tons of money.

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