CEO Daily: Friday, 21st April
Until recently, most of China’s corporate giants have tended to operate in a world of their own—serving a rapidly growing domestic market but not venturing out much beyond their borders. Aside from the natural resource companies, only a handful of big Chinese corporations—like Lenovo and Huawei—operate as truly global businesses.
But that’s changing, and ChemChina’s $43 billion planned takeover of Swiss agriculture firm Syngenta is the biggest manifestation of that change. That massive deal dwarfed the previous record, which was Chinese oil company CNOOC’s purchase of Canadian energy company Nexen for $15.2 billion. Fortune’s Geoff Colvin has done an interesting look at what’s behind ChemChina’s purchase for our May issue, which you can read here.
The acquisition binge by these Chinese giants is certain to become one of the most interesting business stories of the next decade—assuming Beijing allows it to. As a Financial Times interview with Wanda Group founder Wang Jianlin showed earlier this week, the Chinese government is picky about the kind of outbound investment it’s willing to allow, given the downward pressure on its currency from private capital flows.
Among the many cultural differences western businesses can expect to experience, one is the pay issue I wrote about earlier this week. Top executives of Chinese state-owned enterprises earn a tiny fraction of the compensation of top executives at the companies they are acquiring. I’m told the CEO of ChemChina, for instance, makes less in total compensation than Syngenta board members make in board fees! That could make for an interesting marriage.
Another Chinese company—not state owned—that’s on an acquisition tear is HNA Group, which has struck more than $40 billion worth of deals in the last two years—including a $6.5 billion stake in Hilton Hotels, the acquisition of Ingram Micro and, most recently, the announcement of plans to buy Singapore logistics provider CWT. I met recently with Xiandong (Adam) Tan, CEO of HNA Group, who is quite clear about his company’s ambition to become China’s largest truly global company. Watch this space, but enjoy the weekend first.
More news below.
• Paris Attack On The Eve of Presidential Election
A ‘lone wolf’ gunman shot dead one policeman and injured two others on Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Elysées, in what authorities said appeared to be an Islamist terror attack. Coming only three days before the first round of presidential elections, it’s likely to stiffen support for those talking toughest on Islamic terror, the right-wing candidates Marine Le Pen and François Fillon. The race is already too close to call, with four candidates—two of them firmly outside the mainstream—within 5 percentage points of each other. Elsewhere, it emerged that terror was not the motive for the bomb attack on a German soccer team last week. A suspect identified as Sergey V. was arrested on suspicion of trying to depress Borussia Dortmund’s shares, which he had earlier shorted on the stock market. Fortune
• Trump’s Steel Probe Redefines ‘National Security’
President Donald Trump launched an investigation into whether steel imports should be restricted on national security grounds, citing steel’s importance to “our economy and our military.” The U.S. is the world’s largest steel importer, but those imports come from over 90 different countries, largely from allies such as Canada, Brazil and South Korea. Moreover, the military’s need for steel is minuscule compared to civilian demand. However, no-one disputes that the global steel market is badly distorted by Chinese overcapacity. Tougher import restrictions would worsen that glut, arguably creating greater and broader pressure on China to close unneeded mills and stop its dumping. Shares in U.S. Steel, Nucor and other steel companies rose as much as 7.5% on the news. Fortune
• Endgame for Chavismo
Mass protests against the rule of President Nicolas Maduro continued in Venezuela, urged on by opposition parties that now hold a majority in the country’s parliament. There were no further fatalities to add to the two protesters and one national guardsman who were killed in bigger protests on Wednesday. General Motors accused the authorities of illegally seizing its assets after its plant in Valencia was occupied and looted, while elsewhere it emerged that an arm of state oil company PdVSA, which owns refineries in Texas and Louisiana, had donated $500,000 to the committee organizing Donald Trump’s inauguration. Time
• Pai Frees the Airwaves
The Federal Communications Commission reversed a 2016 ruling that limits the number of TV stations some broadcasters can buy, potentially clearing the way for greater consolidation across the sector. Chairman Ajit Pai said he plans to take a new look at the current overall limit on companies owning stations serving no more than 39% of U.S. television households. Pai said he would conduct a broader review of the rules on owning channels later this year. That the current rules are obsolete due to the advance of Internet-based technology is clear. By the end of this year, 25% of all households will have stopped buying cable and satellite TV services, according to a new study by Convergence. Separately, Pai also scrapped a rule capping data prices for small businesses, in an attempt to establish whether competition can keep prices down as effectively. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• Verizon‘s Virtue out of Necessity
Verizon shed new light on its surprise decision to offer an unlimited data plan in February after years of resisting: it was losing customers in droves. From the beginning of the year until the unlimited plan was unveiled on Feb. 12, Verizon lost a net 398,000 regular monthly phone customers, by far the most it had ever lost in an entire quarter. It then regained a net 109,000 regular monthly customers by the end of the quarter. Those developments underlay an earnings report that missed forecasts, with revenue falling 7% from a year earlier and earnings per share down 10%. Its shares fell another 1%, leaving them down nearly 10% so far in 2017. Fortune
• Wells Regulator Admits Sleeping on the Job
Wells Fargo and its U.S. bank regulator discussed complaints of high-pressure sales tactics as early as 2010 but officials took no action for years, according to the regulator’s review of the scandal. The Office for the Comptroller of the Currency said its bank examiners “failed to follow-up on significant complaint management and sales practices issues.” Wells Fargo had already been firing tellers for creating phony accounts for five years when OCC officials met to discuss why the practice was still continuing in 2010. By then, the OCC and Wells had 700 whistleblower complaints at their disposal (a figure that community banking head Carrie Tolstedt said illustrated the effectiveness of its internal controls). The OCC fired its most senior Wells Fargo examiner earlier this year. Fortune
• O’Reilly Leaves With $25 Million Payoff
Bill O’Reilly will leave Fox News with a $25 million pay-off, equivalent to around one year’s salary, according to various reports. O’Reilly continued to describe the sexual harassment claims against him as “completely unfounded” and called his exit “tremendously disheartening,” but avoided any criticism of the network’s biggest shareholders, the Murdoch family. 21st Century Fox’s shares, which had lost 7% as the scandal around the allegations by O’Reilly gathered momentum, rose 2.5% in after-hours trading. Fortune
• Deutsche Writes Another Check to Regulators
We know, we know. CEO Daily hasn’t been an item about a conduct-related scandal at Deutsche Bank for some weeks now, and we’re aware that this is not normal. So it is with some relief that we send you into the weekend with the news that it has agreed to pay $137 million to the Federal Reserve for manipulating benchmark currency prices with other banks, and another $20 million for failing to have an adequate compliance program for implementing the Volcker Rule, which limits deposit-taking banks’ freedom to trade on their own account. It’s the first Volcker-related penalty since the rule was introduced in 2015. The stock market pushed the share price up 1.3%, having one less unknown to worry about. WSJ, subscription required
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith; Geoffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org @geoffreytsmith