M&A PHOTO

Advisory Board Co sells health, education businesses for $2.6bn

US-based consulting and research firm Advisory Board Company said Tuesday it will sell its education business to affiliates of investment firm Vista Equity Partners and its healthcare business to health-services company Optum, in deals valued at a collective $2.6bn.

Advisory shareholders will get an estimated $54.29 per share, including a fixed price of $52.65 and an additional amount based on the value of Advisory’s 7.6 per cent stake in Evolent Health, a healthcare technology company. Advisory shares closed Monday at $49.85.

The respective deals are expected to close late this year or early next, pending regulatory and other approvals. The Optum deal is valued at $1.3bn and the Vista side is worth $1.55bn.

When completed, Advisory’s healthcare business, called Advisory Board, will merge with Optum, which is a subsidiary of the largest US health insurer, UnitedHealth. Advisory’s education business, EAB, meanwhile, is expected to be operated as a standalone business in Vista Equity Partner’s portfolio.

Advisory shares jumped 6.4 per cent in per-market trading after the announcement. Earlier this year activist fund Elliot Management revealed an 8.3 per cent stake in Advisory. Advisory said Tuesday that Elliot had agreed to vote its shares in favour of the Optum deal, which requires shareholder approval.

Roy Price PHOTO

Amazon Studios boss Roy Price resigns following Weinstein allegations

Amazon Studios boss Roy Price has resigned from his role after becoming embroiled in the string of sexual allegations that have emerged against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The company’s head of video content was recently put on “indefinite leave” after he was accused of ignoring actress Rose McGowan’s claims that Weinstein raped her.

According to trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter, he has also been accused of sexually harassing Isa Hackett, the producer of Amazon show The Man In The High Castle.

On Tuesday, a representative for Price confirmed that he had decided to step down.

His move comes days after Amazon’s senior VP of business development, Jeff Blackburn, sent a memo to employees saying that the company did not tolerate harassment or abuse.

The statement, seen by the Press Association, read: “The news coming out of Hollywood over the past week has been shocking and disturbing — and unfortunately we are a part of it. It’s sad and very disappointing to me.

“Amazon does not tolerate harassment or abuse of our employees or our business partners.

“I’d like to emphasise, that at any time, if you have any concerns related to harassment or abuse at Amazon, please immediately report the incident to your manager, your HR business partner, the legal department, or the Amazon Ethics Hotline.

“As you know, Roy Price is on leave of absence for an indefinite period of time.”

Hackett alleged in The Hollywood Reporter that Price repeatedly propositioned her on the way to, and during, an Amazon party at Comic Con in San Diego in 2015.

Hackett told the magazine she made clear to Price she was not interested and told him that she is a lesbian with a wife and children.

She posted: “I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn’t been proven. I said I was the proof.”

Weinstein has “unequivocally” denied any allegations of non-consensual sex through his representative.

Kim Jong PHOTO

North Korea’s economy may not survive another year, defector says

North Korea is so weak its economy might not last long under tough United Nations sanctions, a high-ranking defector said Monday in his first public speaking engagement in the U.S.

The former insider’s view of dictator Kim Jong Un’s oppressive regime comes just as North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador stepped up the tough talk. “Nuclear war may break out any moment,” Kim In Ryong said Monday.

But North Korea may just be bluffing.

“I don’t know if North Korea will survive a year [under] sanctions. Many people will die,” said Ri Jong Ho, a former senior North Korean economic official. He was speaking through a translator at the Asia Society in New York.

“There is not enough to eat there” and the sanctions have “completely blocked” trade, he said, forcing the government to send tens of thousands of laborers overseas. Ordinary North Korean households have no electricity, he added, while the capital city only gets three to four hours a day.

Ri was last posted in Dalian, China, where he helped run Office 39, a secret organization responsible for obtaining cash for the ruling Kim family. Ri also won the highest civilian honor in the dictatorship. But after a series of purges, he defected with his family in late 2014 and now lives in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

The defector painted his birth country as one in dire straits. China, North Korea’s largest trade partner, is “very upset” with the rogue state for not reforming its economy and instead “begging” its giant neighbor for food, Ri said. On the other hand, Ri said, North Korean leaders met with Russian President Vladimir Putin but diplomacy “was not as easy as it might have been thought.”

Kim is also offended that he has never met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi also once chose to visit the southern part of the peninsula before the north.

During a 2014 meeting with North Korean officials, Kim Jong Un called Xi a “son of a b—-” and the Chinese “sons of b——,” Ri said, adding that there is fear China will “betray” North Korea.

As a result, building a relationship with the United States is the rogue state’s primary focus.

Ri likened Kim’s war of words with President Donald Trump to a “child and adult dispute.”

The dictator thinks help from the U.S. will enable him to solidify his leadership, just as North Koreans generally think alliance with the U.S. helped South Korea prosper, Ri said. “North Korea is very fearful of South Korea.”

To address its insecurities, North Korea fires missile after missile. Invariably, the world worries about the pariah state’s growing nuclear threat and China repeatedly calls for dialogue. Ri, however, said he sees the solution as more than simply gathering together for talks.

When negotiating, the parties need to know what they want, which is far from the case here due to lack of understanding on both sides, Ri said. In order to successfully turn the situation around, foreign diplomats need to understand what is in Kim Jong Un’s head and “change what he thinks.”

Latest Brexit News: Does the UK owe the EU money?

Legal and political considerations are obviously intertwined in the debate about a financial settlement as the UK prepares to leave the EU. But it is possible to separate them in some respects.

Article 70 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that the termination of a treaty… “does not affect the right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination”.

In other words, as the EU would argue, your obligations only come to an end on the day of the termination of an international treaty – the “get-out clause” doesn’t apply to obligations made before you leave.

But – and it is a big but – there is a crucial caveat. Those terms apply under the Vienna Convention “unless the treaty otherwise provides or the parties otherwise agree”.

And the treaty in question – the Treaty on European Union (TEU) – does provide otherwise, in the form of the famous Article 50. So Article 50 of the TEU trumps Article 70 of the Vienna Convention.

Now, Article 50 doesn’t say anything about money or rights or obligations. So, in this interpretation, the UK would not be required to pay anything if there were to be no withdrawal agreement, because the treaty itself says nothing about any such payments.

Article 50 says “the treaties shall cease to apply to the state in question” either when a withdrawal agreement takes effect, or two years after the Article 50 process has been triggered by the member state that intends to leave. This is the ticking clock.

An in-depth report on this debate, issued by the House of Lords, acknowledges that there are “competing interpretations” on what the UK should pay, but it reaches the conclusion that, because the European treaties do not say anything on the matter, there would be no enforceable obligation to make the UK pay any financial contribution at all.

The Lords has taken the view that Article 50 is in effect a “guillotine” and the UK would be free to walk away without any responsibilities should agreement not be reached. But, and we’ll come back to this, it warns that there would be a price to pay.

It is also important to emphasise that these are largely uncharted legal waters and some kind of legal challenge at an international level would probably be made. The EU itself could not bring a case against the UK at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, because it is not a sovereign state.

But the remaining 27 member states – acting either individually or collectively – could in theory appeal to the ICJ, or to another relevant international tribunal. They would want their money back.

And this is where we have to get back to politics. No deal on money would mean “no deal” on any of the other issues being negotiated under Article 50, such as the rights of citizens and the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Walking away with no agreement would also do significant reputational damage to the UK – if we can’t trust you on past obligations, EU officials would argue, why should we trust you on future ones?

That is why the British government says it wants a deal and it accepts that it does have financial obligations to meet. The trouble is there’s no agreement so far on precisely what those obligations are.

In conclusion, it is easy to say – in isolation – that the UK has no legal obligation to pay anything at all. But the reality is that such a provocative move would cause far more problems than it would solve.

Most leading Brexiteers acknowledge that, and accept (with varying degrees of reluctance) that the UK should pay something as a gesture of goodwill. On the EU side it is seen as rather more than that – it is a prerequisite for any deal to succeed.

Mortgage PHOTO

Mortgage Rates: Down On Low Inflation

Average rates on 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages fell three basis points, and the 5/1 ARM declined one basis point, according to a NerdWallet survey of daily mortgage rates published by national lenders.

The drop in rates followed tame inflation news. The core Consumer Price Index (for items excluding food and energy) was up 1.7% in September compared with 12 months earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Core inflation has remained at 1.7% five months in a row. The Federal Reserve has been trying to nudge inflation up to 2%.

This week’s economic calendar might shed light on the strength of housing. Wednesday brings statistics on housing starts and building permits in September, and Friday has the September report on existing home sales.

MORTGAGE RATES TODAY:

30-Year Fixed: 4.02% APR (-0.03)
15-Year Fixed: 3.47% APR (-0.03)
5/1 ARM: 3.93% APR (-0.01)

Theresa PHOTO

May and Davis to travel to Brussels for urgent Brexit talks

Prime minister and Brexit secretary to meet Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier in attempt to break stalemate.

Theresa May and David Davis will make a surprise visit to Brussels for a private dinner with the European commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, in a diplomacy blitz before a crucial summit this week.

May and Davis will visit Juncker and Barnier in the Belgian capital on Monday evening, where they are expected to make the case for EU leaders to agree to move on negotiations, to pave the way for discussions of Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

Though Downing Street insisted the dinner had long been in May’s diary, EU sources suggested it may have been more last-minute, but were not able to provide confirmation.

The EU, led by Germany and France, has sought to harden its position towards the prospect of trade talks beginning before Christmas. The UK has been unable to break the EU wall of unity that insists the talks about future relations cannot start until talks on the terms of departure are settled.

A European commission source said Juncker would have a working dinner with the prime minister, along with Davis and Barnier, on Monday to “discuss European and geopolitical issues of common interest and prepare” for the European council summit starting on Thursday. They would also discuss the long-term agenda for the G7 and G20.

Monday will be the first time May and Juncker have dined since the pair’s catastrophic meeting in April. Juncker is reported to have said May was “deluded” about the progress of Brexit, and the prime minister in turn accused Brussels of making deliberately timed attacks to interfere with the UK general election.

May is said to be in the midst of a whirlwind round of “telephone diplomacy” with EU leaders before the summit, starting with a conversation with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Sunday.

Documents leaked last week suggested that European leaders, on the bidding of the European council president, Donald Tusk, would present an agreed position on a transition period and a trade deal in December, should the UK make further concessions.

That promise to the UK was expected to be made at the European council summit this week. However, at a meeting of key diplomats on Friday evening, EU member states discussed weakening the language in the draft statement about their intentions in December, to give themselves greater flexibility in how they respond when they assess the rate of progress.

Multiple EU sources said the member states were concerned that they might be boxing themselves in, and that they should avoid promising any guidelines on how the EU foresees a trade deal and transition period working. “How detailed do we want to be about what we will do in December?” one said. “Some feel that maybe we should be more general.”

The EU is both unsure about the reliability of the UK as a negotiating partner, during a time when May’s position in Downing Street is in doubt, and wary of looking too eager for trade talks, when major concessions in the financial settlement are still being sought. “We can’t control what happens in the UK,” said one EU diplomat. “We can only control what we do here.”

Other UK cabinet ministers have also been wooing EU leaders before the summit. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, met eight eastern European foreign ministers at Chevening on Sunday in an attempt to break the Brexit deadlock, the first time since the negotiations started that the Foreign Office has gathered such a collection of allies in one place.

In the phone call with Merkel, May’s spokesman said she stressed the importance of progress in the negotiations, in a week when her Conservative backbenchers have been pushing her to start making detailed preparations for a no-deal scenario.

The prime minister is expected to make more calls to other EU leaders in the coming days but a No 10 source made it clear May was not planning on threatening to withdraw from talks, despite some of the pressure from more hardline Eurosceptics.

On Sunday, the former Brexit minister David Jones said Britain should be prepared to suspend negotiations at this week’s European council meeting until the EU was prepared to negotiate further on the financial settlement and begin talks on future trade terms.

“Until such time as you talk to us we will assume you are not really serious and we will of course have to prepare for life outside the EU in which we will be trading with you on World Trade Organization terms,” Jones told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.

Such a strategy is likely to meet fierce opposition from MPs on both sides of the house who oppose a hard Brexit. On Sunday the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said his party was talking to Tory MPs to block any prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

However, his comments sparked concern from Labour and Conservative backbenchers who believe Tory MPs are not likely to be won over to support the amendment if it can be construed as being orchestrated by McDonnell or the Labour frontbench.

McDonnell’s comments came as a cross-party group of MPs, including several former Conservative ministers, revealed plans that would give parliament the ability to veto a “bad deal” or “no deal” outcome, using amendments to the forthcoming EU withdrawal bill.

The shadow chancellor said Labour was not prepared to consider the prospect of leaving the EU without a negotiated settlement. “I’m not willing to countenance that. I don’t think there is a majority in parliament for no deal,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“I think there are enough sensible people in the House of Commons to say: ‘This cannot happen – we cannot damage our country in this way.’”

Asked if Labour would work with Conservative MPs who were also concerned about leaving with no deal, McDonnell said: “There are discussions going right the way across the house.”

One Labour MP called the comments “totally counterproductive” to cross-party collaboration between MPs from both sides lobbying for a soft Brexit. “The Tories don’t want to do anything perceived to help Corbyn; this kind of chat puts them off challenging the ministerial frontbench,” the source said.

On Monday, leading Conservative MPs from both sides of the Brexit divide played down the likelihood of a no-deal scenario.

Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, who is among the cross-party group of MPs seeking to give parliament the power to veto any no-deal departure, said very few people were actively seeking this.

“I do think we’ve got to make it clear, only a handful of hard rightwing Eurosceptics really think no deal is desirable,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“A majority will, I think, wish to look in the round at whatever this crisis scenario is that has arisen at the time.”

Clarke said the aim of the proposed amendments to the EU withdrawal bill was not to reverse Brexit: “I’ve accepted that the vast majority of parliamentarians think they’re bound by this referendum and therefore we’re going to leave.”

The leading Conservative Eurosceptic MP John Redwood also said he did not expect a no-deal scenario, but insisted the UK could “do just fine” if that happened.

Redwood told the Today programme the government must prepare for the possibility of there being no deal.

“But I suspect, at the 11th hour, the EU will want a free trade deal with us, because they won’t want tariffs on all their exports to us. But if we look as if we’re weak it’s going to delay getting any sensible offer out of them.”

Redwood stressed he would prefer a deal to happen. “Of course, I think that if we had tariff-free trade with no new barriers that would be better than if the EU insist on putting some tariffs and barriers in the way.

“The reason I’m fairly relaxed about them doing that is there are limits to how much damage they can do because we’re both members of the World Trade Organization and we know we can trade perfectly successfully on world trade terms, because that’s what we do at the moment with the whole of the rest of the world.”