Good morning, and happy Friday,
Some interesting milestones at the end of the holiday week:
-Samsung likely passed Apple as the world’s most profitable company in the second quarter, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s expected to report an operating profit of around $12.1 billion, compared to Apple’s $10.6 billion, when earnings are announced next month.
-Electricity generated from renewable sources surpassed that generated by nuclear plants in March and April, for the first time in decades. Some of that reflects a heavy seasonal flow of water through hydro dams this spring. But it also reflects the strong growth of utility-scale solar and wind. (Today’s CEO Daily has more than its fair share of energy-related news – see below.)
-Tesla ended, at least for now, its brief reign as the nation’s most valuable automaker. Its shares tumbled yesterday and have now fallen nearly 20% in just two weeks. The company ended the day with a $50.7 billion market cap, below GM’s $52.6 million.
And finally, an interesting poll unveiled at last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival by Burson-Marsteller and polling firm PSB found 59% of Americans say they trust corporations, which they see as having a more positive impact on their lives than the federal government. But at the same time, 61% view the business executives who run those corporations unfavorably. Something for CEOs to ponder. The full results are here.
News below. Enjoy the weekend.
• The Bond Market Waits Nervously for June’s Jobs Report
It’s payrolls day. The U.S. is expected to have added 173,000 non-farm jobs last month, after a below-trend 138,000 in May. The risk is arguably skewed to a lower number after yesterday’s ADP private-sector survey came in at the low end of expectations at 158,000. Bond markets have had a rough week against a background of talk of tightening central bank policy, and may rally from an oversold position today if the number is benign. Employment is still growing faster than the workforce, which should mean the labor market is tightening. But the trend in average earnings has been weakening since April: something has to give.
• The Death of Free Trade Has Been Exaggerated
Japan and the EU clinched a trade liberalization deal (key points here), a move that will allow them to argue at today’s G20 summit that their commitment to free trade is more than just hot air, and to show there is a non-Chinese alternative to global leadership in trade if the U.S. insists on putting up tariff barriers. For Japan, it eases the pain from losing TPP. The EU, for its part, has responded to the shock of Brexit by upping its deal-making game. Elsewhere, the Financial Times reported that the EU is preparing tit-for-tat tariffs on the Kentucky bourbon industry if President Trump puts tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. That would put pressure on the home state of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
• France Puts Down an E-Mobility Marker
France became the first major advanced economy to set a deadline for banning the internal combustion engine. It intends to stop the sale of diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles by 2040. It also wants to stop generating electricity from fossil fuels by 2022, which should also be possible given the preponderance of nuclear and hydro in its energy mix. As with the EU-Japan deal, there is an element of pre-G20 grandstanding: everyone is trying to burnish their global leadership credentials in anticipation of a U.S. abdication. But the political imperative, prompted by a diesel-driven pollution crisis as much as by climate change concerns, is real. The cut-off date of 2040 aims to allow the domestic car industry enough time to retool accordingly. India, which has a more pressing pollution problem and less of a car industry to worry about, has already set itself the same goal by 2030.
• Qualcomm Goes for Apple’s Jugular
Qualcomm further escalated its legal battle with Apple, filing a new patent infringement lawsuit and seeking to have imports of some iPhones and iPads banned from the country. In a federal lawsuit, the chipmaker said Apple was violating six of its patents that cover key mobile technologies. Apple stopped its manufacturers from paying Qualcomm royalties on iPhones and iPads with mobile chips in April. Qualcomm is also pursuing the issue with the International Trade Commission, but said it could take up to 18 months for the ITC to act on its complaint. As such, upcoming new iPhones expected in the fall wouldn’t be blocked.
Around the Water Cooler
• Sir Elon Seeks the Holy Grail Down Under
More on the clean energy front. Elon Musk’s car operations may be facing more competition, and sooner, than his apostles reckoned, but they are not the only game in town. At least, they’re not the only game in Adelaide, South Australia. The state just picked Tesla to install the world’s largest grid-scale battery with the aim of stabilizing a grid that has been destabilized by rapid growth in unpredictable renewable power. Making grid-scale storage commercially viable is the Holy Grail of renewable energy, as it cuts the risk of interruption. Tesla won the tender partly by promising to give the facility away for free if it doesn’t get it online within 100 days. One way or another, there’s a lot riding on the bet.
• …While Sir Warren Chases a More Traditional Opportunity
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is close to a deal to buy Dallas-based electricity transmission giant Oncor for around $18 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. The deal will make electricity, which already contributes nearly 10% of Berkshire earnings, one of the biggest contributors to Berkshire’s bottom line. Oncor was the crown jewel of Energy Future, which collapsed after an ill-judged leveraged buyout in 2007. The Public Utility Commission of Texas has already refused two offers for Oncor, fearing a repeat of that incident. Buffett’s own distaste for complex financial engineering appears to give it better chances of success.
• Decline and Fall, the Unicorn Way Jawbone, the company that pioneered Bluetooth cellphone headsets, wireless speakers, and fitness trackers, has begun liquidation proceedings as its co-founder and CEO Hosain Rahman moves onto a new project. Rahman has reportedly started a new health-focused hardware and software services company called Jawbone Health Hub, according to The Information. The company’s valuation peaked at $3 billion in 2015 before the fitness-tracker hype cycle turned. Jawbone’s ongoing lawsuit against rival Fitbit over alleged theft of trade secrets will be handled by Sherwood Capital, which is administering the liquidation.
• Malone’s Rearguard Action at QVC
John Malone is the latest man jolted into action by the advance of Amazon and other online retailers. His Liberty Interactive is buying the 62% of Home Shopping Network that it doesn’t already own and will merge it with QVC, a deal that will create a company valued at just over $2 billion. Liberty will then spin off its cable TV assets into a new company called QVC Group (which will also include flash-sale network Zulily). It is at best a rearguard action designed to get the best remaining value out of what is, if not a wasting asset, then at least a seriously challenged one.
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith Geoffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org;