What’s the best measure of corporate performance?
Over the course of the year, Fortune ranks companies in many different ways. We have the Fortune 500, which ranks U.S. companies based on revenues, and the Fortune Global 500, which does the same globally. Then there’s the Best Companies to Work For list, the Fastest-Growing Companies list, and the World’s Most Admired Companies list. To top it off, we have our Businessperson of the Year list, which is based on a rigorous evaluation of a company’s performance over the last three years, and our newer Change the World list, which celebrates companies who make measurable progress in addressing major global social problems part of their core strategy.
This morning, we unveil the uber-list – Fortune’s Blue Ribbon Companies – which includes 34 companies that show up on at least four of these seven lists. They are the top of the top, and deserve to be celebrated.
More news below.
• Trump Chastises Boeing, Woos Softbank, Foxconn
Donald Trump’s one-man industrial strategy stepped up a gear Tuesday, as the President-elect threatened to cancel a $4 billion order for two new presidential aircraft from Boeing. Separately, Trump met with Softbank chairman Masayashi Son who talked in a completely non-binding way of investing $50 billion in the U.S. and creating 50,000 news jobs. A little later, Taiwan-based Foxconn, Apple’s biggest supplier, also hinted it would shift some production to the U.S., in a move that may be related to Son’s declaration.
• Supreme Court Hardens Insider Trading Stance
The Supreme Court toughened its stance on insider trading, lightening the burden of proof on prosecutors who will now no longer have to prove that the person giving the tip-off profited financially. The unanimous ruling was the Court’s first intervention on the issue in 20 years, and restores much of the power that the government lost in a case against hedge fund manager Todd Newman in 2014. That decision had invalidated over a dozen other insider trading cases. The cases that may now be reconsidered include the one against Omega Advisors CEO Leon Cooperman, who was charged by the SEC in September.
• Apple on the Defensive
Apple CEO Tim Cook took the unusual step of publicly defending the performance of the Apple Watch after a survey by IDC suggested that its sales had cratered in the third quarter. IDC’s figures had been distorted by a strong basis effect–the third quarter of 2015 had included a new product launch, while this year’s hadn’t. All the same, Cook omitted to produce any figures to back up his purple prose. Separately, Apple admitted that the battery bug that makes its iPhone 6s shut down prematurely is more widespread than it first thought (again, without providing any real detail). And to round off, it also agreed to pay $450,000 to the California Environmental Protection Agency for mishandling hazardous electronic waste at its facilities in Silicon Valley (Foxconn, please note).
• U.K., EU Jockey Over Brexit Talks
The EU’s chief negotiator on the separation settlement with the U.K., Michel Barnier, warned that there will only be 18 months to negotiate its terms and said the EU would resist a piecemeal deal that undermined the principles of its Single Market. Meanwhile in London, the U.K. government appeared to make concessions to parliament by agreeing to publish its strategy for the talks early next year, having previously argued that this would weaken its negotiating position. Theresa May’s action appears to anticipate defeat in the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court to stop parliament restricting its freedom of maneuver. That hearing started yesterday and continues today. The desire of both sides to keep to some sort of schedule suggests the initial ‘deal’ will be minimally disruptive to business, with the harder issues being ironed out over a lengthy transitional period.
Around the Water Cooler
• Pfizer Fined $107 Million By U.K.
The U.K. fined Pfizer 84.2 million pounds ($107 million) for its role in the National Health Service being overcharged for the epilepsy drug Epanutin. It’s the biggest fine ever imposed by the U.K. for manipulating drug prices, and a further illustration of regulatory pushback against the industry. The Competition and Markets Authority also said it would fine Flynn Pharma, a privately-held company to whom Pfizer sold the drug’s marketing rights in 2012. The sale led to the drug being debranded, and thus exempted from price regulation. Flynn subsequently pumped up the price by up to 2,600%. Pfizer and Flynn both said they would appeal. Elsewhere on the same theme, Denmark’s Novo Nordisk said it would limit future price rises for its insulin and other diabetes treatments to less than 10%.
• Wells Fargo Takes a Zero off Estimated Scandal Cost
Wells Fargo’s new CEO Tim Sloan said the bank may end up paying only tens of millions of dollars (rather than hundreds of millions) in investigations and other regulatory matters in order to resolve issues from its phony accounts scandal. That’s far less than earlier estimates. In November, the bank upped its potential legal costs by $700 million. The bank’s shares have joined in the rally since the presidential election on perceptions that the Trump administration will be less severe on Wall Street than the Obama one. Across the Atlantic this morning, the EU fined HSBC, JPMorgan and Crédit Agricole a total of 485 million euros ($520 million) for rigging the Euribor benchmark interest rate.
• Airbnb Inches Toward Peace Deal With New York
Airbnb dropped a lawsuit against New York after getting assurances that it wouldn’t be held criminally liable for hosts who break city rules on short-term rentals. The home-sharing service is tailoring its rules across the world to insulate itself from a legal backlash as it prepares for a possible IPO. The deal is akin to one struck recently with San Francisco. The company also told Fortune it may bow to pressure to share hosts’ details with officials to help the enforcement of local regulations, something that would be a radical departure from past policy.
• JPMorgan’s Eye-Watering Customer Acquisition Costs
JPMorgan Chase will take a hit of up to $300 million on this quarter’s net profit from the costs of promoting its new high-end Sapphire Reserve credit card. Bloomberg reported CEO Jamie Dimon as telling a conference that “the card has been doing great”, but then it clearly ought to be given that they came with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus for anyone spending over $4,000 in the first three months. In any case, Dimon can argue that it still leaves plenty left over for shareholders–Wall Street estimates a profit of $5 billion this quarter. Bloomberg cited research from Sanford C. Bernstein estimating that the bank will need over five years to break even on its investment in the program. By that time, the low interest rates that made the bet on a higher-fee, higher-bonus product necessary might be a thing of the past.
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith Geoffrey.email@example.com;