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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

A look back at the top business stories of 2023



Members of the United Auto Workers union picket outside of the General Motors Flint Assembly Plant in Flint, Mich., Sept. 16, 2023. After six weeks, the workers reached tentative agreements with the three companies, giving workers their biggest pay raises in decades while avoiding a protracted work stoppage. (Erin Kirkland/The New York Times)

By Andrew Ross Sorkin, Ravi Mattu, Bernhard Warner, Sarah Kessler, Michael J. de la Merced, Lauren Hirsch and Ephrat Livni


The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the conviction of Sam Bankman-Fried, the reassertion of union power and the turmoil at OpenAI were just some of the big business stories in a year that was full of them.


DealBook has chosen some of the biggest newsmakers, stories and trends from 2023.


The world races to regulate AI


Artificial intelligence had a good year. Investment poured into AI startups; Big Tech firms deployed their scale and cloud computing operations to build ties with the field’s new leaders; and Nvidia became the first chipmaker to hit a market capitalization of $1 trillion thanks to demand for its AI semiconductors.


The investor enthusiasm was matched by worry among lawmakers, who often struggled to keep pace with the companies developing the technology. But the first steps toward developing regulations for AI have been taken. President Joe Biden issued an executive order in October focused on the technology’s implications for national security; China imposed restrictions on certain types of AI; and European Union lawmakers passed one of the world’s first regimes to regulate the technology.


But amid the disparate efforts, there was also an attempt to achieve some measure of international collaboration. Last month, more than two dozen countries, including rivals U.S. and China, tech executives and researchers attended Britain’s AI Safety Summit. The event didn’t end with an agreement for a new set of rules, but the governments warned of the dangers posed by the most advanced AI systems and agreed to keep talking.


The PGA Tour and LIV Golf agree to a merger


On June 6, the PGA Tour, the world’s preeminent men’s professional golf circuit, and LIV Golf, a Saudi-funded rival that was poaching top players and posed a serious threat, tentatively agreed to join forces. The decision was a stunning reversal for the PGA Tour and its commissioner, Jay Monahan, and it was negotiated in secret, angering many of the tour’s top players.


The deal demonstrated the growing power of Saudi Arabia in the business of sports. The kingdom has spent billions in soccer, boxing and golf as part of a push to diversify its oil-dependent economy. But many questioned the logic of the deal and pointed to Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record. U.S. lawmakers want to know if the Saudi government is using sports to further its strategic objectives as a means of “sportswashing.”


‘Barbenheimer’ dominates the box office


In July, two movies that were released on the same day provided a long-awaited signal that theaters had bounced back from the pandemic. “Barbie” is a comedy based on the Mattel doll and directed by Greta Gerwig. “Oppenheimer” is a biopic about the creator of the atomic bomb made by auteur filmmaker Christopher Nolan. Together, they gave North American multiplexes their biggest weekend since “Avengers: Endgame” arrived in April 2019. Some moviegoers even watched them back-to-back.


The movies opened as the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the union representing tens of thousands of actors, were both on strike, bringing the industry — and hopes for a consistent stream of hits — to a near standstill. The WGA reached a deal with studios in September and SAG-AFTRA reached an agreement with studios in November.


Regional bank failures set off a crisis


On March 10, in the biggest bank failure since the 2008 financial crisis, the government seized Silicon Valley Bank. A recap: The bank’s clients — spooked by news that the bank was working to shore up its finances and that Moody’s had downgraded its bond rating — had pulled out more than $40 billion of their deposits. On March 12, regulators shut down Signature Bank, a New York-based lender.


The banks’ failures led to fears about the stability of other midsize lenders. Wall Street’s biggest banks agreed to give $30 billion to First Republic and Swiss authorities brokered a deal for UBS’ take over of its domestic rival, Credit Suisse. But even a multibillion-dollar intervention wasn’t enough to save First Republic: Federal regulators seized the lender in May sold it to JPMorgan Chase.


The UAW conducts a historic strike


On Sept. 14, the United Auto Workers union began its first strike that simultaneously targeted all three Detroit automakers, General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis, the parent of Ram, Jeep and Chrysler. The union broke from its traditional approach of idling most or all operations at one company, instead taking action at a limited number of each company’s locations. After six weeks, the workers reached tentative agreements with the three companies, giving workers their biggest pay raises in decades while avoiding a protracted work stoppage. The UAW’s success inspired it to go after nonunionized carmakers, including Tesla and foreign-owned companies.


Taylor Swift conquers the world


The Eras Tour, Taylor Swift’s career-encompassing run of shows, was a blockbuster this year, selling $14 million in tickets each night, according to one estimate, setting it on a pace to potentially reach $1.4 billion in total sales by the time the tour ends next year. Swift, who in July broke the record for most chart-topping albums by a woman, also engineered a new type of deal for her concert film. She negotiated directly with the theater chain AMC Entertainment to release “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour.” That allowed her to bypass big studios and keep 57% of ticket revenue. During its opening weekend in October, the film made an estimated three-day gross of $95 million to $97 million in North American theaters, easily becoming the biggest concert film opening ever.


Sam Bankman-Fried is convicted


On Nov. 2, after four hours of deliberation, a jury found Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, guilty of seven charges of fraud and conspiracy for stealing billions of dollars from customers and investors. It was a stunning fall for Bankman-Fried, a one-time poster child of the cryptocurrency industry who was worth $20 billion just a year earlier. After FTX collapsed, many of his closest lieutenants and executives agreed to work with prosecutors and testified against him. In a trial in New York, he was portrayed as a brazen young founder, who funneled stolen money into his investments and used it for extravagant spending.


Bankman-Fried, 31, is expected to appeal. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 28.


U.S. businesses face new pressures in China


President Joe Biden and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, held their first face-to-face talks in more than a year last month on the sidelines of a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders near San Francisco. The discussions were cordial and designed to reestablish lines of communication.


But Xi also sought to reassure U.S. business leaders during the trip. He hosted a banquet for business executives. Those who attended included Tim Cook, CEO of Apple; Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock; and Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone. Xi tried to convey that foreign business was welcome in China, despite the growing challenges of operating there amid a crackdown on companies with Western ties and the strained relationship with the U.S. Yet the dinner showed that many U.S. companies aren’t ready to give up on doing business in the country.


Elon Musk berates advertisers who fled X


At the DealBook Summit on Nov. 29, Elon Musk made waves after he used profane language to denounce companies that had suspended their advertising on X, formerly known as Twitter, following Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory. He also said he hadn’t meant to support bigots, and apologized for his post. The 90-minute interview with Musk, the billionaire whose companies SpaceX, Tesla and X are among the most consequential and talked-about in the world, also touched on his personal philosophy, his concerns about AI, and the 2024 presidential election.

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