I’m writing this note on a plane home from London, having spent two days at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit just as Britain and the world were waking up to the very real possibility that the U.K. could vote to leave the European Union on June 23.
Rupert Murdoch’s Sun drove the point home with a front page editorial yesterday headlined “BeLEAVE in Britain.” The Sun said the campaign to remain in the EU was driven by “the corporate establishment, arrogant europhiles and foreign banks” and called a vote to leave “our chance to make Britain even greater, recapture our democracy, to preserve the values and culture we are rightly proud of.” The echoes of Donald Trump’s campaign – and the endorsement by Murdoch’s Post of that campaign – are impossible to miss. (Never mind that Murdoch himself is a card-carrying member of said establishment, and his Wall Street Journal is among Trump’s most relentless critics.)
Whatever voters decide, the message for business is clear. Both Europe and the U.S. are turning inward, and the ramifications for the global economic system set up after World War II are profound.
Yesterday, my former colleague Richard Wilke of the Pew Research Center released new polling data comparing attitudes in the U.S. and Europe that reinforce this message. Among the findings: 57% of Americans, and similar majorities in many European countries, want their country to “deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems”; only 37% of Americans and around 40% in European countries are interested in helping “other countries deal with their problems.”
Some 49% of Americans go even further, saying they believe “global economic engagement is a bad thing because it lowers wages and cost jobs,” compared to just 44% “who think it is a good thing because it creates new markets and growth.” Pro-globalization sentiment still prevails in most European countries, with the exception of Greece and Italy.
Those numbers raise serious issues for companies that built their businesses on the assumption that globalization – fueled by digitalization - is an irresistible force.
• Ryan, Obama Round on Trump After Orlando Comments
The Republican Party joined the Democrats in criticizing Donald Trump’s response to the Orlando shooting, in a development that again exposed the discomfort of the GOP with a nominee that its top brass would rather not have had. House Speaker Paul Ryan said a ban on Muslims entering the country, such as Trump has suggested, would not be “reflective of our principles—not just as a party, but as a country,” a statement that echoed President Barack Obama’s view that Trump’s latest outburst betrayed American values. A Bloomberg opinion poll yesterday put Hillary Clinton 12 points clear of Trump, while a poll of polls for Real Clear Politics put her four points ahead. In other Orlando-related news, reports suggest that Omar Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, knew what her husband was planning and may face charges for not acting to stop it. Fortune, WSJ, subscription required
• Synchrony Shocks
Another warning shot from the consumer credit markets: Synchrony Financial, the largest issuer of retail-store credit cards, raised its forecast for credit losses over the next year, triggering a sell-off in both its own shares and those of sector rivals Capital One, Discover Financial and Ally Financial. The increase in expected defaults—to 4.8% from 4.5%--was only a small one and was from a very low base, but confirmed a trend observed by the Federal Reserve in the first quarter, when net charge-offs rose in year-on-year terms for the first time in six years. WSJ, subscription required
• Court Upholds Net Neutrality
A Federal appeals court rejected an effort by the telecoms industry to overturn the FCC’s rules on net neutrality, further validating the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate Internet service provision as it does utilities. The court voted 2-1 to reject the challenge, arguing that ISPs are now overwhelmingly operators of infrastructure rather than content. The ruling is a blow to the likes of Verizon and Comcast, and a boost for bandwidth-hungry streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. The telecoms industry is widely expected to take the appeal to the Supreme Court. WSJ, subscription required
• How Dovish Can Yellen Stay?
Janet Yellen will tell us all about the economic outlook after the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee meeting winds up later today. A rate hike has been off the cards since the surprisingly sharp drop in job growth in May, but a second straight set of strong retail sales data, out yesterday, may persuade the FOMC to signal a rate hike sooner rather than later (assuming the U.K. doesn't send markets into a tailspin later this month). Economists say the retail sales data indicate consumer spending growing at 3%-4% in the second quarter, a respectable clip. Reuters
Around the Water Cooler
• Brexit Breather for Markets
The markets have stabilized this morning after a new poll on the U.K.’s referendum showed a small majority in favor of remaining in the E.U. But the political noise continues to rise: Treasury chief George Osborne told the BBC Wednesday that he would have to cut spending and raise taxes in an emergency budget to fill a $42 billion ‘black hole’ in the budget if the country votes for ‘Brexit’. That would amount to ripping up the Conservative Party’s last election manifesto and would likely cost it the next election. A more likely scenario post-Brexit would be for Osborne (who has campaigned to Remain) would leave the Treasury, leaving the mess to someone more on board with the Brexit program. BBC
• Boeing Back in Iran
Iran said it has finalized a deal to buy aircraft from Boeing for the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, with officials quoted as saying the details will be announced “in a few days.” The State Department hasn’t yet confirmed that Boeing has a license to sell planes to the country, but a deal has been in the offing for months. Reuters has reported the deal could be for as many as 100 planes. If confirmed, it will give significant momentum to the normalization of economic relations between Iran and the U.S., even if the conditions tied to the lifting of sanctions means that the process is still reversible. Reuters
• Our Fakes Are Better Than Your Branded Goods, Says Jack Ma
Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma has thrown fuel on the fire over the company’s perceived tolerance of fake goods on its online marketplace. Ma said in a speech that many counterfeit goods are of better quality than branded ones, thanks to improvements at the Chinese firms to which many western companies outsource their manufacturing. “They are exactly the [same] factories, exactly the same raw materials but they do not use the names.” Ma also boasted that Alibaba’s importance to the Chinese economy would also protect it from harsh regulatory measures to stop it selling fakes. Ma subsequently put out a statement ‘explaining’ his comments, saying that he wasn’t defending fakers, just saying that “counterfeiting is not a quality problem…(but) an intellectual property problem.” FT, metered access
• Uber Uber Alles
Fresh from raising $5 billion in fresh equity, the ride-hailing app is now looking to raise up to $2 billion through the leveraged loans market. It's hoping to pay between 4% and 4.5% for the money, according to The Wall Street Journal. That may seem low for a company that is still losing money, but with the glittering prize of an IPO mandate dangling in front of them, you can see why its banks would promise such a low number. WSJ, subscription required