Good Monday morning.
Fortune this morning releases its list of the 100 Fastest Growing Companies—which ranks publicly traded companies by three years’ growth in revenues, profits, and stock returns. Facebook and Amazon both made the top ten (#6 and #9, respectively), but the top five are less obvious:
1. Natural Health Trends, which markets health and beauty products primarily in Hong Kong, but has seen sales plummet this year;
2. Paycom Software, which provides financial applications to business;
3. LendingTree, the online loan broker;
4. Abiomed, which makes artificial hearts and heart pumps; and
5. Mimeox Group, which creates tissue grafts from recovered placentas to treat soft-tissue wounds.
A couple of trends emerge from the list:
First, financial companies, which took a beating after the 2007- 2008 crisis, are now in the top spot, accounting for 35 of the 100. But while that exceeds the 27 companies classified as “technology,” it’s important to note that most of the 100 are powered by strong technology, reflecting the fact that nearly all successful companies are effectively technology companies these days. Case in point is LendingTree (#3)—which Fortune’s Shawn Tully profiles here.
Second, reflecting the importance of technology, California is home to the most companies on the list—24, or nearly a quarter of the total. That’s three times as many as in Florida, which ranks second with seven companies on the list. Among the California companies is Gilead (#63, down from #17 last year), the biotech juggernaut, which takes the prize for most years on the list (8).
What’s missing from the list? Energy. After a strong showing three years ago, there wasn’t a single energy company on this year’s list.
• Florida’s Lashing by Irma Avoids the Worst
Hurricane Irma weakened after leaving a trail of destruction across Florida that saw central Miami flooded and nearly 5 million people left without power. The storm has now been downgraded to a Category 2. While storm surges have been severe, including on the state’s vulnerable west coast, the volume of rain has been far less than that deposited by Harvey, and the death toll—at 25 across Florida and the Caribbean, significantly lower, according to preliminary estimates. Insurance losses from Irma and Harvey appear likely to be well short of the worst-case scenarios, generating an underwriting loss for the year, but not threatening the capital base of the major players (Munich Re, for example, is the best performing stock in the Euro Stoxx 50 this morning, up 4.2%).
• Markets Rebound as Irma, Korea Fears Recede
Global stock markets opened strongly on Monday and the dollar rebounded a little after a weekend in which investors’ worst fears mercifully failed to materialize. That was true for North Korea as much as it was for Irma. In addition to the aforementioned insurers, banking stocks are also rebounding after being sold heavily last week as traders scaled back their expectations for higher interest rates. Haven assets such as gold and Treasury bonds and the yen are retreating, while crypto-currencies Bitcoin and Ethereum are bottoming out after heavy losses on reports that China intends to shut local Bitcoin exchanges. China has also loosened some currency controls, taking the edge off the yuan’s rally.
• China Moves Closer to Banning the Combustion Engine…
A senior government official said China is considering a timetable for banning internal combustion engines. France and the U.K. have already announced such initiatives with hard deadlines, and India is working out what deadline it should set, but a comparable Chinese mandate would be a game-changer, given the scale of the market. China already accounts for more than half of all electric vehicles sold worldwide. It would also dramatically raise the imperative for China to fix its dependence on fossil fuels for electricity, given that the country’s coal-dominated power sector is responsible for more pollution than the transportation sector.
• …While Spending $9 Billion on Russian Oil
CEFC China Energy, an ostensibly private company, said on Friday it will pay $9 billion for a 14% stake in Russia’s Rosneft, the world’s largest publicly-traded oil producer by volume. Some kind of deal had been expected, given that Qatar and Glencore had obviously not intended to be long-term holders of the stake they bought at the end of last year. It extends a gradual trend of mortgaging Russia’s national resource wealth to sustain an economy constrained by sanctions, and satisfies a long-standing Chinese petition for a piece of that pie. The deal also underlines the inconsistent nature of Chinese policy on outward investment, which is still welcome as long as it overlaps enough with the government’s long-term strategic priorities. One can wonder about the soundness of that strategy, given that CNPC and Sinopec have lost so much on similar ‘strategic’ investments that their balance sheets are apparently no longer strong enough to support such deals.
Around the Water Cooler
• Equifax’s ‘Dumpster Fire’
There but for the grace of God… Embarrassment mounted for Equifax over its massive data breach, in which up to 40% of Americans had at least some of their confidential information compromised. On top of the news of suspicious stock sales by insiders, the company rolled out an online help tool with faulty safety certificates and sub-standard algorithms. It then used the incident as a marketing tool for its premium service Trusted ID. It managed to rebut claims that it was asking customers to waive their rights to sue as part of that offer, but not before a public rebuke from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Proofpoint security expert Brian Krebs labeled the incident a ‘dumpster fire.’ Two class action lawsuits and a Congressional law are already in the pipeline.
• Apple Leaks Go From Piano to Fortissimo
The crescendo of leaks surrounding Apple’s new product release approached its climax, with most attention devoted to the iPhone 8’s price tag, estimated at up to $1,000 (with a lower-storage version offered at $900). That would be an ambitious step up in pricing for a product that faces increasingly sophisticated competition. Related tittle-tattle posited that the company’s new smartwatch would come with its own cellular connectivity. The big reveal is scheduled for Tuesday.
• ‘It’ Lifts Hollywood’s Blues
Hollywood may have had dismal box-office takings this summer but sometimes glimmers of hope come from the scariest places. It, the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel, has turned out to be a record-breaker. Warner Bros’ R-rated frightener took in $117.2 million during its opening weekend in the U.S.—the most successful launch weekend for any horror movie, the biggest September opening ever, and the second-biggest opener for films with that adults-only rating (the first being last year’s Deadpool).
• Teva Finds a CEO at Last
Israel-based Teva, the world’s biggest seller of generic drugs, has appointed Kare Schultz as its CEO after an extensive search. Schultz, formerly COO at Novo Nordisk, was most recently CEO and president of H. Lundbeck. The company’s shares, which have fallen sharply in recent months, are slated to open up 12%.
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith; firstname.lastname@example.org