Investors Fret Over Khashoggi Killing but Still Maintain Saudi Ties

Virgin founder Richard Branson announced he was pulling out of talks on a $1 billion deal with Saudi Arabia over the killing of a Washington Post columnist. State involvement in the killing, “if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government,” Mr. Branson said.

Days later in a text message, Mr. Branson counseled the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to release female activists his country had imprisoned.

“If you were to pardon these women and a number of men too, it would show the world the Government is truly moving into the 21stCentury,” Mr. Branson texted the crown prince. “It won’t change what happened in Turkey but it would go a long way to start and change people’s view.”

Mr. Branson was one of the first in a parade of CEOs, fund managers and bankers who scrambled to figure out how to preserve their relationships with Prince Mohammed after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul embassy in the fall.

Mr. Branson urged Prince Mohammed to change his ways. Others adopted a dual strategy of public condemnation while trying to continue to do business as usual. Some shunned the formality of Saudi Arabia’s high-profile investment conference but pursued informal gatherings instead.

The reason: Many have tied their companies’ future to Saudi money and Crown Prince Mohammed’s wide-ranging economic overhauls.

This whole Khashoggi thing doesn’t mean anything,” said hedge-fund manager John Burbank, who has been one of the U.S.’s most prominent investors in Saudi stocks. “It means much less than the big, sweeping liberalization that’s happening in the kingdom.”

MBS, as Prince Mohammed is known, politely thanked Mr. Branson for his input. A few days later, the crown prince publicly denied involvement in the murder, calling it a heinous crime. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has since concluded that he likely ordered the killing.

American investors in Saudi stocks, besides Mr. Burbank, include Peter Thiel and hedge fund Bienville Capital Management, among others. Roughly 4% of the total Saudi market is held by foreigners.

One person’s life doesn’t matter unless it’s MBS’s,” Mr. Burbank says. “Khashoggi doesn’t matter.” He adds that investors who have steered away from Saudi Arabia are hypocrites, because some of them also invest in Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Burbank was among the dozens of Western executives and investors who showed up at the home of Yasir al Rumayyan—chairman of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund, which the crown prince oversees—on the eve of the investor conference in October. Over platters piled high with roast lamb, towers of sweets in golden birdcages and champagne flutes of fruit juice, they toasted their relationship beneath palm trees tinted by purple spotlights, attendees said.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son backed out of the conference, but he still showed up at the lamb feast. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also pulled out of the conference, but Uber co-founder and board member Travis Kalanick was at the party, along with former congressman and current banker Eric Cantor and his boss, banker Ken Moelis, and venture capitalist Jim Breyer. Thiel Capital portfolio manager John MacMahon also appeared at the dinner, and the chief executive of Silicon Valley construction startup Katerra, Michael Marks, attended the investment conference.

Matt Barnard, the CEO of Plenty—an indoor-farming startup with $200 million in backing from a Saudi-backed SoftBank fund—flew to Saudi Arabia for the conference. But he returned home without attending, a Plenty spokeswoman says.

The cost of shunning Saudi Arabia could be high. Some business partners fear losing access to the kingdom in the future if they pull out of Saudi deals now.

Ari Emanuel, the CEO of Hollywood talent agency Endeavor, is negotiating to return a $400 million investment that the Saudi sovereign-wealth fund made in his company earlier this year, people familiar with the company’s plan say.

In the wake of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mr. Emanuel said he was “really concerned about it.”

.. “Were there mistakes made? Absolutely there were mistakes made,” said Matt Michelsen, an associate of John Burbank and a Silicon Valley investor. “But this place is changing. I saw Starbucks opening on multiple corners. There are women walking around without abayas. It’s a fundamental shift that’s occurred.”

Tech Luminary Peter Thiel Parts Ways With Silicon Valley

Billionaire investor frustrated with what he sees as intolerance of conservatism in tech industry; has discussed resigning from Facebook board

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel is relocating his home and personal investment firms to Los Angeles from San Francisco and scaling back his involvement in the tech industry, people familiar with his thinking said, marking a rupture between Silicon Valley and its most prominent conservative.

.. Thiel has grown more disaffected by what he sees as the intolerant, left-leaning politics of the San Francisco Bay Area, and increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for tech businesses amid greater risk of regulation

.. Mr. Thiel has long stood out in Silicon Valley for his vocal libertarianism, but he drew heavy criticism from many tech-industry peers—including fellow Facebook board member Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix Inc.—when he backed Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and later served as an adviser on his White House transition team.

Mr. Thiel has recently said tech culture has become increasingly intolerant of conservative political views since Mr. Trump’s election, an attitude he has said is intellectually and politically fraught.

Silicon Valley is a one-party state,” Mr. Thiel said last month at a debate about tech and politics at Stanford University. “That’s when you get in trouble politically in our society, when you’re all in one side.”

.. Mr. Thiel has bucked Silicon Valley conventions since his days as a Stanford University student in the 1980s, when he helped start a student newspaper to promote conservative views.

.. He also has backed more unusual initiatives such as an institute that advocates creating ocean-based cities outside the reach of governments.

.. Mr. Thiel also has been an emissary for Facebook to its large population of right-leaning users. In May 2016, after media reports that curators of Facebook’s “trending topics” feature suppressed news about conservative events and from conservative sources, he helped Facebook convene a closed-door meeting to smooth things over with a group of prominent conservatives.

.. Mr. Zuckerberg publicly deflected the criticism of Mr. Thiel, saying in March 2017 that demands for his removal were “crazy” and that “ideological diversity” had become a necessary component of diversity in the workplace and boardroom.

.. Mr. Thiel sees an opportunity to build a right-leaning media outlet to foster discussion and community around conservative topics, the person said.

The Men Who Want to Live Forever

Today several biotech companies, fueled by Silicon Valley fortunes, are devoted to “life extension” — or as some put it, to solving “the problem of death.”

.. As the longevity entrepreneur Arram Sabeti told The New Yorker: “The proposition that we can live forever is obvious. It doesn’t violate the laws of physics, so we can achieve it.”

Of all the slightly creepy aspects to this trend, the strangest is the least noticed: The people publicly championing life extension are mainly men.

..  these women are focused on curbing age-related pathology, a concept about as controversial as cancer research. They do not appear thirsty for the Fountain of Youth.

.. But now, as powerful men have begun falling like dominoes under accusations of sexual assault, that video with its young women clustered around an elderly multimillionaire has haunted me anew.

.. What has remained unsaid, because it is so obvious, is what would make someone so shameless in the first place: These people believed they were invincible.

They saw their own bodies as entirely theirs and other people’s bodies as at their disposal

.. Historically, this is a mistake that few women would make, because until very recently, the physical experience of being a woman entailed exactly the opposite

.. it’s even more recently that men have been welcome, or even expected, to provide physical care for vulnerable people.

.. Only for a nanosecond of human history have men even slightly shared what was once exclusively a woman’s burden: the relentless daily labor of caring for another person’s body, the life-preserving work of cleaning feces and vomit, the constant cycle of cooking and feeding and blanketing and bathing, whether for the young, the ill or the old.

..  has enormous potential to change a person. It forces one to constantly imagine the world from someone else’s point of view

.. But if we really hope to create an equal society, we will also need more men to care for the powerless — more women in the boardroom, but also more men at the nurses’ station and the changing table immersed in daily physical empathy

.. Death is the ultimate vulnerability.

Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund Makes Monster Bet on Bitcoin

Few mainstream investors have bought large sums of bitcoin, scared off by concerns about cybersecurity and liquidity

Founders bought around $15 million to $20 million in bitcoin, and it has told investors the firm’s haul is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars after the digital currency’s ripping rise in the past year.

.. He previously ran a multibillion-dollar hedge fund focused on global macroeconomic trends, and had some success navigating the financial crisis before racking up investment losses by investing in safe havens and missing out on the subsequent rebound.

.. Founders has more than $3 billion under management and has taken stakes in more-than 100 companies, including Facebook, Airbnb Inc., SpaceX and Lyft. More recent investments include the crypto-focused hedge funds Metastable Capital and Polychain Capital, which puts money into blockchain companies.