Here are the stories that defined the year in business, and in Semafor fashion, we’re giving our views alongside the news. Some of them are stories we covered, some we just missed, and some happened before we launched in October.
“Be careful what you wish”
THE NEWS: After a hostile bid, a serious case of buyer’s remorse, and a swing through Delaware court, the world’s richest man (at the start, anyway) is now the owner of a Twitter that appears to be in the middle of an operational and financial meltdown. Advertisers are fleeing, accounts are being banned and unbanned, and the future of the digital public square is very much in doubt.
OUR TAKE: Individuals, rather than corporations, are the driving force in the business world right now. See also: Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard giving his company to a charity fighting climate change, Ken Griffin bankrolling Republican politicians, and Sam Bankman-Fried, well, you know.
Crypto’s boy wonder behind bars
THE NEWS: When 2022 began, Bankman-Fried was the boy who would be king of cryptoland. Now he’s an accused criminal, and the empire he built is gone. (Bankman-Fried is an investor in Semafor.)
OUR TAKE: For years, crypto evangelists have talked about building a new, trustless financial system, powered by code and devoid of centralized power structures. It turns out that trust is crucial, that there is no escape velocity from the gravitational laws of finance, and that the bleeding edge of finance is just as vulnerable – maybe more so – to flim-flam artists. Welcome back, bros.
A united West takes on Moscow
THE NEWS: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked an unprecedented boycott by the West, which moved to essentially unplug the world’s 11th-largest economy in a matter of weeks. But what began as moral outrage quickly turned into economic pain in Europe, where high energy prices are sowing political unrest.
OUR TAKE: A morally unambiguous war made things easy for Western companies like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Pepsi, which pulled up stakes in the country. But it will be a real-world test of whether sanctions can work on such a large scale (Iran and North Korea don’t have much the world can’t live without.) The coming months will challenge the West’s resolve, especially as temperatures fall across Europe.
Nobody knows anything
THE NEWS: “Almost everyone on Wall Street and in Washington got 2022 wrong,” The Wall Street Journal wrote this week, and we couldn’t say it better. The Federal Reserve expected inflation to be transitory; it wasn’t. Investors thought the Fed wouldn’t risk a recession or a market rout; turns out Jerome Powell is not messing around.
OUR TAKE: It’s a little reassuring that, for all the talk over the past decade about how the future of markets belongs to the algos, there’s still room for human (mis)calculations. The active manager is dead, long live the active manager.
Pour one for growth stocks
THE NEWS: investors in 2022 soured on the growth-at-any-cost, loss-making playbook that had driven tech companies for much of the last decade. The shine quickly came off Disney’s expensive bet on streaming, Facebook’s metaverse money pit, and Snap’s play for Gen Z.
OUR TAKE: About time. It took a combination of higher interest rates — which discount the future value of far-off-in-the-future profits — and a likely recession to bring Silicon Valley and corners of Hollywood down to earth. And while it’s cold comfort to out-of-work engineers (and out-of-work CEOs like Bob Chapek) this is how it’s supposed to work. “Disciplined money” will come back, pick over the wreckage and invest for the next decade
Cold war on corporate “wokeness” turns hot
THE NEWS: States such as Texas and Louisiana blacklisted investments in BlackRock because of the money manager’s perceived liberal bent, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took on the 600-pound mouse in his state – and won.
OUR TAKE: We’ve written about the headaches outspoken companies and corporate leaders can expect from a GOP-led House of Representatives (load up on the Advil, Larry Fink), but it’s still shocking how far the party that once did big business’s bidding has moved.
Blackstone’s ‘closed’ sign
THE NEWS: The private-equity giant halted withdrawals in its $70 billion retail real-estate fund, a little over a month after the FT’s analysis on the importance of the fund for Blackstone’s future plans — and how a few rough years could be “downright nasty” for the firm.
OUR TAKE: Every few years or so, the market relearns an old lesson about liquidity: Things are fine when everything is going up. But when people rush for the exits, things that look liquid – and to be fair, real estate was never one of those things – become hard to sell fast enough.