The Week's Top Stories: Oil Prices Jump, Slack Goes Public

June 21, 2019

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, these are the top stories that moved markets and had investors, business leaders, and entrepreneurs talking this week on Cheddar.

Oil Soars: Crude oil prices jumped to their highest price in three weeks ー the biggest weekly gain since February ー amid a week of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf between the U.S. and Iran. After two more oil tankers were crippled by attacks in the Gulf of Oman in June, Western intelligence immediately pointed to evidence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was behind both instances of sabotage. Iran then took responsibility for shooting down an unmanned American surveillance drone that it says had intruded on Iranian airspace. The Pentagon said the drone was flying above international waters in the Gulf. President Trump ordered ー and then called off ー targeted airstrikes against Iranian military installations late Thursday. Altogether, the developments helped send oil prices higher by more than 6 percent. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy said U.S. crude stockpiles fell last week by a wider-than-expected margin. Light sweet crude, the oil grade most closely pegged to U.S. gas prices, approached $58 per barrel by midday Friday. See more.

Patience, Patience: Markets soared after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged at its monthly meeting, but officials appeared to open the door to future cuts in the coming months. The lowered rates would come amid pressure from economic indicators, not to mention the president of the United States. The Fed's statement, which accompanies each rate decision, notably dropped a reference to staying "patient" over the cost of borrowing and cited economic "uncertainties," indicating a rate cut is becoming more likely. President Trump has been clamoring for a cut ー an unusual case of the White House openly pressuring the independent central bank on monetary policy. He told ABC News this week he's "waited long enough" for action from the Fed. See more.

Don't Call It an IPO: Slack, the ubiquitous workplace messaging service, went public in an unusual direct listing at the New York Stock Exchange. Shares soared in Slack's market debut, opening at $38.50 from a reference price of $26 per share. The company's valuation after its first day as a public company: $19.5 billion ー almost triple its last private valuation. Like Spotify ($SPOT) before it, Slack ($WORK) chose a direct listing over a more traditional IPO partially to avoid the costs associated with bank underwriters and because it didn't need to raise new capital. Before trading, Slack was sitting on nearly $800 million in free cash. Slack says it's used by more than 600,000 organizations and has 95,000 paying customers. See more.

Boeing vs. Airbus: Airbus easily outpaced Boeing at this year's Paris Air Show, the week when most major new plane orders are traditionally negotiated. It wasn't much of a surprise. Boeing ($BA) remains hobbled as its workhorse 737 Max jet remains grounded indefinitely after two doomed flights killed more than 300 people over six months. In Paris, Airbus recorded orders for 595 airplanes, more than twice as many as its U.S. rival. Boeing did fly off with one big win, landing a letter of intent from IAG, the parent company of British Airways, for 200 of its 737 Max jets. Airbus executives made their frustration known and are reportedly asking IAG to open up that bid to competition. See more.

Crypto Goes Mainstream: Facebook announced its much-anticipated foray into cryptocurrency and financial services with Libra, a digital coin that will be run by an international consortium of companies and backed by a basket of fiat currencies like the U.S. dollar and Euro. Facebook will operate Calibra, a digital wallet that will allow its billions of active users to store and send Libra without the need for a bank. Almost immediately, lawmakers and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic expressed concerns that Facebook's mainstream adoption of crypto requires major oversight, especially given the company's stumbles on privacy and data issues. Facebook has said one of its major goals with Libra and Calibra is to provide banking services for the more than one billion people in the world who are "unbanked." That of course raises new questions: is Facebook, therefore, a bank? Libra is expected to launch in 2020. See more.

ーby Carlo Versano