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Morning Agenda: Britain Bolsters Its Bid for Aramco IPO – New York Times

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Britain appears to be going the extra mile to land Saudi Aramco’s blockbuster initial public offering.

The Financial Conduct Authority, a British financial regulator, unveiled potential new rules on Thursday that would make it easier for state-owned companies to list on the London Stock Exchange.

There’s one very big Middle Eastern oil concern that is preparing an initial public offering: Saudi Aramco, the behemoth that powers Saudi Arabia’s economy. The kingdom is seeking to list about 5 percent of Aramco, at a valuation of some $2 trillion. (Bankers say the figure should be a lot lower.)

Exchanges worldwide have been competing hard for the listing, which would come next year. London’s biggest rival, according to analysts, is probably the New York Stock Exchange.

What the F.C.A. proposes is to create a category of premium listing specifically for state-owned companies. The twist: Interactions between these corporations and their sovereign controlling owners won’t be treated as related-party transactions, meaning they won’t require approval by other shareholders.

Here’s what the regulator’s chief executive, Andrew Bailey, had to say:

“Sovereign owners are different from private sector individuals or companies — both in their motivations and in their nature. Investors have long recognized this and capital markets are well adapted to assess the treatment of other investors by sovereign countries.”

Google Avoids a Big French Tax Bill

Google has scored a victory in one of its European legal battles.

A French court said on Wednesday that the technology company did not have to pay $1.3 billion in back taxes. The case had focused on whether Google had avoided taxes in France by routing five years’ worth of sales there through a subsidiary in Ireland. The court ruled that the Irish unit was not taxable in France.

The French tax authorities plan to appeal, according to a statement from the office of the country’s budget minister, Gérald Darmanin.

But the decision gives Google some relief after the record $2.7 billion fine it received last month from Europe’s competition regulator. European Union officials have also brought charges relating to Android, accusing Google of forcing cellphone manufacturers to install its services.

Google isn’t the only American technology company under scrutiny in the region. Last year, the European Union ordered Apple to pay $14.5 billion in taxes in Ireland.

Uber Drivers Win Preliminary Class-Action Status

Uber drivers are a step further forward in their fight to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors.

A federal court in North Carolina gave conditional certification on Wednesday to a class-action lawsuit brought by several drivers under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The plaintiffs can now seek out roughly 18,000 other Uber drivers who opted out of arbitration in their contracts with the company and invite them to join the case. They will still have a way to go — after the discovery phase of the case, the court will make a final determination as to whether the plaintiffs can proceed in a true class action.

The status of Uber’s drivers has always been a contentious issue — many of them felt they were captive to the company rules and demands and should be accorded the protections and benefits of traditional employees.

The New S.E.C. Chairman’s Pledge to Small Investors

Walter J. Clayton wants to make clear that he will be looking out for the interests of mom-and-pop investors.

Mr. Clayton’s nomination as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission drew criticism from people who said that had spent most of his career representing big corporate clients; he was a partner in a prominent New York law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell.

In his first public speech in his new role, Mr. Clayton offered few specific policy recommendations. But he did call for the creation of an advisory board to review transparency in the bond market and for a continued crackdown on stock swindles.

He also tried to balance his concern for investor protection with trying to reduce regulatory obstacles that deter companies from going public.

Looking Back at Shareholder Activism in 2017

The 2017 proxy season has ended, and with it much of the shareholder activism Wall Street is likely to see this year. JPMorgan Chase took stock of the recent campaigns. Here are some of its takeaways:

Institutional investors like mutual funds and pension funds accounted for about 13 percent of activist campaigns in the United States. Roughly half of those involved calls to maximize shareholder value, which was once the province of hedge funds.

BlackRock and Vanguard supported at least some of an activist’s director nominees 24 percent of the time, T. Rowe Price 33 percent of the time, and Goldman Sachs Asset Management an eyebrow-raising 69 percent of the time.

Just 19 of the 54 campaigns in the United States that involved a proxy contest went to a shareholder vote. Activists scored some form of victory in about 47 percent of votes.

Roughly 20 percent of the companies subject to campaigns had been attacked by another activist in the previous four years.

Revolving Door

Deutsche Bank has hired Mark Sooby and Harris Ghozali, both previously at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, as managing directors in its Americas corporate finance team, focusing on energy acquisitions and divestitures.

The law firm Alston & Bird has hired Stuart Rogers, formerly of Credit Suisse, as a partner in its corporate transactions and securities group and its financial advisers practice.

And Finally, From Sun Valley …

Top names from the worlds of media and technology have descended upon Allen & Company’s annual conference in Sun Valley, Ida. The goal, as always: to see if there are deals to be made, like Jeff Bezos’s purchase of The Washington Post. (One C.E.O. on everyone’s watchlist is Lowell C. McAdam of Verizon, though some think the rumors of a Verizon-Disney pairing are overblown.)

The gaggle of reporters gathered around the Sun Valley Lodge, blocked from attending any of Allen & Co.’s events, have dutifully noted the usual parade of moguls, including Timothy D. Cook, Jeffrey L. Bewkes and Barry Diller.

This year’s surprises were Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. As the Trump-Russia controversy intensified — fueled by the emails in which Ms. Trump’s brother Donald Trump Jr. agreed to a meeting that Mr. Kushner attended — the couple arrived at the resort on their own dime.