The Week in Business: Even Billionaires Can’t Buy Debate Skills

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Happy leap year, everyone. To close out this extra-long February, consider getting a jump on your taxes today. Or, more realistically, fantasize about taking a year off to travel — which may not need to be quite such a fantasy after all. Back to the real world: Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead in business and tech.

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Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

Michael Bloomberg may have poured $400 million into his presidential campaign so far (more than the four other leading candidates combined), but it wasn’t enough to save him in his first debate. He took a beating onstage — and then in national polls — for bungling simple questions about his taxes, his policies when he was the mayor of New York City and accusations of fostering a sexist culture at his multibillion-dollar company (to which he responded, weakly, that maybe the women who worked for him “didn’t like a joke I told”). It was a sharp upset, especially since his ad push had made such a big splash. He’ll get another shot at the next debate, in South Carolina, on Tuesday.

Michael Milken, the “junk bond king” whose business played a role in the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1980s, was among the bevy of white-collar criminals who received official pardons from President Trump this past week. An archetype of his generation’s “greed is good” mentality, Mr. Milken received a 10-year jail sentence for securities fraud in 1990, but was released early after a diagnosis of prostate cancer. He was also barred for life from deal-making, but that didn’t stop him from negotiating CNN’s $7.5 billion sale to Time Warner in 1996, for which he was forced to pay a $47 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (For what it’s worth: He may have clemency, but he’s still not allowed near financial markets — technically.)

Morgan Stanley is buying E-Trade, the discount brokerage firm that allows regular people — i.e., those without tons of money — to buy and sell financial assets online. The deal would give Morgan Stanley access to a new customer base known as the “mass affluent”: people who have some savings to invest, but are not rich enough to buy into hedge funds or pay for a Wall Street money manager (Morgan Stanley’s traditional bread and butter). The $13 billion takeover is the biggest by a major American bank since the 2008 financial crisis.

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Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

Now that Brexit has finally happened, Parliament can focus on other things — like keeping certain types of immigrants out of Britain. Starting next year, the government will restrict visas for workers who can’t speak English or meet specific salary minimums. The new rule is part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promise to “take back” control of the country’s borders and reduce its economy’s dependence on cheap migrant labor. But it isn’t unfriendly to all foreigners — high-skilled workers (engineers, scientists, those with advanced degrees) are welcome. Still, many business owners are worried that the law will hurt them because they rely on employees who don’t meet its requirements. Another concern: The regulation disproportionately affects female immigrants, particularly those in low-paying jobs like nursing and senior care.

Employees at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter have voted to unionize — a groundbreaking step in Silicon Valley, which has been notably unfriendly to organized labor. Google, for instance, tried to prevent workers from discussing their labor rights, hired a consulting firm that specializes in blocking unions and fired several employees who pushed back. (The company says the employees were let go for other reasons.) Kickstarter is one of the first tech companies of its size and visibility where employees overcame those obstacles, and their next steps will be watched closely by other workers who hope to follow suit — as well as higher-ups seeking to stop them.

Over a month into the coronavirus outbreak, businesses are starting to see more widespread fallout as governments impose stricter measures to contain it. Apple cut its sales expectations for the quarter, citing the virus’s impact on factories and stores. (In China, many people are afraid — or forbidden — to go out and shop, and deliveries are stuck in limbo.) Meanwhile, Amazon is stockpiling more Chinese products in the United States, a departure from its usual strategy of keeping inventory lean, in case the virus gets worse and disrupts trade further. The stock market, however, didn’t seem too bothered by news of more quarantines this past week.

New Mexico has accused Google of using its educational products to spy on the state’s children and families, and is suing the tech giant for violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The lingerie company Victoria’s Secret is being sold and is expected to go private, capping off a year of harsh scrutiny of Leslie Wexner, its owner, who had ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. And across the Atlantic, the “Bernie Madoff of France,” Gérard Lhéritier, is preparing his defense against charges that he orchestrated a literary Ponzi scheme involving a billion-dollar collection of rare books and manuscripts.

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