Global markets reacted badly to the resignation of Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn—and with good reason. Cohn was a critical architect of business’s biggest victory under Trump—the $1.5 billion tax reform/tax cut—and he was the strongest bulwark against the global CEOs’ greatest nightmare—a trade war. With Cohn out of the picture—and with the president’s business advisory panels disbanded—there is good reason for markets to fear the president will feel free to pursue the kind of protectionist policies that he has been advocating for the last two years.
In the aftermath of the resignation, the president took to Twitter to say that he “will be making a decision soon on the appointment of new Chief Economic Advisor,” adding that there are “many people wanting the job.” One of the first names to be floated was Peter Navarro, whose protectionist views were kept in check by Cohn and former cabinet secretary Rob Porter, but who has now been unleashed. Even if the job goes to a more business-friendly candidate, it’s hard to imagine that advisor will have the clout Cohn did. While he and Trump disagreed on many issues, the president respected him because of his successful business career, and tolerated their disagreements. It’s hard to imagine a successor will have similar ability to keep the President’s protectionist tendencies in check.
The trade fight may move to Capitol Hill, where House Speaker Paul Ryan and others are urging the President to take a more “surgical” approach to his proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum. But for now, “urging” is all Congress can do. The law gives the president clear authority to impose the tariffs, without the approval of Congress.
I’m watching this drama unfold from Singapore, where Brainstorm Design continued Wednesday. Among the speakers today was WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey, who told the group how his background growing up in a communal family of unwed mothers, and cofounder Adam Neumann’s background growing up on a kibbutz, helped shaped their views of how to design a more supportive and social workplace environment. You can read more coverage from Brainstorm Design here.
More news below.
Trump’s Car Threat
The European Union’s trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, said today that President Donald Trump’s perception of an imbalance in U.S.-EU car trade was “not based on facts.” Trump has threatened to hit European car-makers with new tariffs. Malmström also noted that, if Trump follows through with his steel tariff threat, the EU will strike back with tariffs on U.S. products including bourbon, orange juice, cranberries and peanut butter. Fortune
The Trump administration is considering new tariffs on imports of shoes, clothing and consumer electronics from China. Suppliers there are warning that this may have a ripple effect on U.S. multinationals such as Nike and Walmart. “I hope Trump realizes that everything has a price. Americans also have things they need to sell to China and the world, so he should think of the consequences,” said glass lampshade entrepreneur Eric Li, who supplies Home Depot and Lowe’s. Bloomberg
BlackBerry Sues Facebook
BlackBerry has sued Facebook, claiming that the company’s WhatsApp and Instagram services infringe on BlackBerry patents covering security and user interfaces. The Canadian firm claims that time-stamps on messages and the tagging of people in photographs are covered by its patents, as is functionality designed to protect users from being inundated with notifications. BlackBerry wants a jury trial. Wall Street Journal
Weinstein Deal Collapses Again
The Weinstein Company’s rescue deal has fallen through yet again, after prospective buyers, led by Maria Contreras-Sweet, found the disgraced movie mogul’s firm was at least $50 million more in debt than it had let on. “After signing and entering into the confirmatory diligence phase, we have received disappointing information about the viability of completing this transaction. As a result, we have decided to terminate this transaction,” Contreras-Sweet said. Guardian
Around the Water Cooler
Trump Sues California
The Trump administration has sued California over laws that protect undocumented immigrants from federal agents. Administration officials said other states could face similar action if they follow California’s lead. The laws stop employers from helping federal agents detain undocumented workers, stop local law enforcements from telling the feds when detainees are released from custody, and set up an inspection program for federal immigration detention centers. L.A. Times
Stormy Sues Trump
Adult film star Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, has sued President Trump, claiming that her notorious nondisclosure agreement with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is invalid because Trump never signed it. Daniels says she and Trump had an affair that ran from 2006 through 2007. She also says Cohen has recently been trying to stop her from speaking out about the alleged affair, “surreptitiously” initiating a “bogus arbitration proceeding” against the actress. NBC
China’s insurance regulator, which recently seized Anbang Insurance Group as part of a risk-reduction drive, has drastically lengthened the list of rules governing insurance firms in the country. The new rules mandate that insurers must have clear shareholding structures and must tell the China Insurance Regulatory Commission who the controlling entity is. The regulator claims it currently has trouble authenticating fund sources. CNBC
Trade Wars Aren’t Good
Although President Trump seems to think trade wars are a good thing, history suggests otherwise. As political science professor Mary Anne Madeira writes for Fortune, the last full-blown trade war was a result of the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, which aimed to protect American agriculture from outside competition. It arguably helped precipitate the Second World War. Fortune