I’m skeptical election jitters have caused people to stop downing donuts, as Dunkin Brands CEO Nigel Travis claimed on a recent earnings call. But I know many business leaders share Travis’ sentiment when he said: “We’ll all be pleased when that’s passed.”
Election 2016 deserves many superlatives – nastiest, seemingly longest, most bizarre, most disturbing, least uplifting and yet most entertaining for an American public fascinated by its car wreck qualities. But among the many has been the fact it has been unmatched in post-World War II history for anti-trade, anti-globalization, anti-business, and anti-capitalist rhetoric. No surprise business nerves are rattled.
So what can we expect when it ends? Certainly a sigh of relief, and possibly a positive response from the economy and markets. The jobless report out later today will likely show that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are strong, and there are signs that the earnings drought of the last five quarters may be easing. Confidence is a hard thing to measure or predict, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a swing in sentiment that boosts markets and business investment once the long election nightmare is over. (That’s assuming, of course, that Russian hackers don’t push the election process into some sort of constitutional crisis.)
Meanwhile, today’s big news is that China’s Dalian Wanda is paying $1 billion to buy one of the most American firms in Hollywood: Dick Clark productions, which owns broadcasting rights for the Golden Globe Awards, the New Year’s countdown in New York, the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the Miss America pageant.
I wonder what Donald Trump will say about that?
More news below.
• More Drug Price-Fixing Accusations Fly
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings called on the Department of Justice to investigate pharmaceutical companies over suspicions that they colluded to fix prices for insulin and other diabetes drugs. The DoJ didn’t respond, but the news generated fresh selling in the shares of Eli Lilly and Merck & Co, as well as Denmark’s Novo Nordisk and France’s Sanofi, the companies named by the Congressmen. They all reject the suggestions. Elsewhere, shares in several generic drugmakers such as Mylan, Allergan and Endo, also fell. They had admitted being subpoenaed in connection with a separate antitrust investigation, against a background of sustained political pressure on their pricing policies.
• CEO Not Required
Cie. Richemont Financiere, the Swiss-based maker of watches, pens and other luxury goods (and co-owner of e-commerce site Yoox Net-A-Porter), has decided it doesn’t need a CEO. The company said Friday Richard Lepeu will stand down in March and won’t be replaced. Chief financial officer Gary Saage will also retire at the end of March, but apparently the group can’t manage without a CFO: he’ll be replaced by his deputy, Burkhart Grund. Under a new structure, the heads of the group’s various units will report directly to executive chairman Johann Rupert. The company’s shares, which have had a torrid time in recent weeks, rose 6% in Zurich on the news.
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• Huawei Emerges as Apple’s Most Potent Challenger
The CEO of China’s Huawei said he wanted to overtake Apple in smartphone sales within two years. Depending on how far Samsung falls in the wake of the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, it may aspire even higher in the long run. The company is currently launching its new high-end Mate 9 smartphone, which includes a feature that enables the device to learn about the habits of its user and automatically put the most frequently used apps in easy reach, as well as boasting much improved battery life (without unintended combustibility, it would appear). Right now, Huawei has a global market share of 9%, compared to Apple’s 12% and Samsung’s 20.1%.
• Google Comes out Swinging Against EU
Google formally rejected European Union antitrust charges of unfairly promoting its shopping service and blocking rivals in online search advertising, paving the way for EU regulators to rule next year on these issues and potentially impose hefty fines. Google’s general counsel Kent Walker said in a blog that the accusations had no factual, legal or economic basis, and that the company’s actions were driven by its users rather than any plan to squash rivals. Google also rejected a Commission proposal which would let the company charge rivals for displaying their services prominently. The Commission could fine Google up to $7.4 billion—10% of its annual revenue—for each of the charges it faces, although any actual fine would likely be far lower.
Around the Water Cooler
• Woe to the Hardware Makers
Someone should have strapped a GoPro to the company’s share price yesterday. The video would have been amazing. The camera-maker’s stock fell 23% in after-hours trading after it reported a wrenching 40% drop in sales in the third quarter. Production problems with its core products, a distribution row with Amazon and intense competition in the drone space, into which it has branched out, were the culprits. The company also slashed its outlook for the current holiday quarter. The news came hard on the heels of Fitbit’s equally dismal report on Wednesday, which only underlines the long-term risks of companies that depend on products which are both susceptible to fads, and don’t require regular upgrading.
• Paris Agreement Comes Into Force
The Paris Accord on limiting the rise in global temperatures over the coming decades comes into legal force today, having comfortably exceeded the threshold for adoption. The political price of backing out of it, as Donald Trump has promised the hard-pressed coal industry, thus increases. The U.S., China, the EU and India have all signaled their intention to be bound the deal struck at COP21 last year, and China warned earlier this week that it expected the U.S. to stick to its commitments. That doesn’t make the actual task of meeting the accord’s goals any easier, with most academic research suggesting that the measures thus far announced will not succeed in keeping global temperatures less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
• Wells Fargo Scandal Spreads Further
Wells Fargo warned its litigation costs may exceed what it has already set aside by as much as $1.7 billion, effectively raising its forecast of the hit from the scandal by $700 million. The admission came after reports that the Securities and Exchanges Commission was investigating whether the bank may have misled investors by concealing the scale of problems with its sales practices. It emerged Thursday, to no-one’s apparent surprise, that unethical sales practices weren’t limited to Wells Fargo’s retail banking operations, but were also common at its brokerage arm, Wells Fargo Advisors.
• Thud! Thud!
The sound of collapsing currencies around the world gets harder to ignore. Turkey’s lira hit a new record low against the dollar after President Erdogan’s men arrested the leaders of the HDP Party, a non-militant party representing the country’s Kurdish minority that has consistently attracted millions of votes in elections. On Thursday, Egypt’s pound had fallen by 50% against the dollar after the central bank abandoned efforts to defend it—a precondition for agreeing a new IMF support package. The social costs of such big devaluations will add to instability in both countries, representing a big challenge in Middle East policy for the next President, whoever wins next week.
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith Geoffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org;