CEO Daily: Friday, May 1st

May 1, 2015, 11:00 AM UTC
The activists are winning. Superlawyer Marty Lipton has spent his long career defending big companies against shareholder activists and corporate raiders. But yesterday, he seemed to throw in the towel, posting a memo on the Harvard Law School web site under the heading “Some Lessons from DuPont-Trian” concluding that it may make more sense to settle with an attacker like Nelson Peltz than to fight a “long, drawn-out proxy battle.” The memo sparked consternation in C-suites – especially the one in Wilmington, Delaware – prompting Lipton to send a follow up email clarifying that he “doesn’t support Peltz” and thinks DuPont has an “outstanding CEO and board of directors.” The DuPont shareholder vote is May 13. We think the writing is on the wall.
Whether this activist uprising is a good thing for corporate America is debatable. CEOs say it forces them to focus excessively on short term earnings. Activists say CEOs use the long-term mantra to hide poor performance. We would only note that neither privately held companies nor Chinese companies face the same pressure, making it easier for them to invest for the future.
Meanwhile, if you want to read about one public company CEO who is just crushing it, check out our story on Gilead Sciences’ earnings call. Gilead’s John Martin may not be the most scintillating CEO in America, but he was number two on our “Businessperson of the Year” list last year, And I’m wondering if he shouldn’t have been number one.
More below. Let us know whether you think shareholder activists are good for business.

Top News

LinkedIn spooks investors

First Twitter, now LinkedIn. Some of the social media's largest names are having a rough week. Professional networking website LinkedIn's shares dropped sharply after the company issued a disappointing revenue outlook for the new quarter. Though revenue grew 35% in the first quarter, LinkedIn warned of a strong U.S. dollar and unspecified "adjustments to our operations, as well as some after effects of the company's $1.5 billion acquisition of video tutorial website  Fortune

U.S. workers gain slight edge on pay

Workers in the first quarter of the year recorded their biggest annual gain in pay since 2008, evidence that a steady decline in unemployment is finally having an effect on paychecks, WSJ reports. Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Target are notable names that have said recently they would increase employees’ pay above the current minimum wage. Meanwhile, blue-chip companies will likely record their steepest year-over-year drop in profits since 2009, thanks to a strong dollar and flagging sales both at home and abroad.  WSJ (subscription required)

 U.K. banks paralyzed before election

Here's a staggering stat that sums up the state of two of the world's greatest financial hubs: Since the coalition government took power in 2010, U.K. bank stocks have lost 7%. Their U.S. counterparts have returned 46%. One analysts said virtually none of the U.K.'s banks are predicting decent returns for at least another three to four years, and harsher stress tests could force firms to bolster capital buffers even further. These troubles loom over the sector as the nation gears up for a May 7 election.  Bloomberg

Gilead open to suggestions on M&A

At a time of consolidation in the biopharmaceutical industry, Gilead has mostly stood on the sidelines, last striking a major deal way back in 2011. Investors are getting impatient for a new acquisition to reinvigorate the company, though Gilead issued a glowing first-quarter report and also raised expectations for 2015 product sales by $2 billion. With that hefty cash flow, CEO John Martin said he was ready to spend on acquisitions. “We are open to suggestions,” he said during an earnings call in a nod to the rampant speculation on possible targets.  Fortune

Circa is looking for a buyer

Mobile news app Circa is seeking a buyer after the San Francisco-based startup failed to secure a new round of venture capital funding. The company's CEO kept a few options on the table, saying the brand could be retained or the technology could be applied to an existing brand. "Our intent is to find the right partner to keep growing this idea, ” says co-founder and CEO Matt Galligan.  Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

The walls of Buffett's "moats" may be breached

Reuters makes a compelling argument that some of Warren Buffett's "moats" (lingo for companies with well established brands that make it difficult for competitors to topple) are facing some real challenges. The report points to several weak spots in Buffett's portfolio -- naming International Business Machines, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble -- as major names that have reported weaker revenue trends in recent years. All are facing competition. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate will release quarterly results on Friday, which will follow with his annual gathering in Omaha, Nebraska.  Reuters

The age detection website distracting your employees

Have you tried ""? If you haven't, you are missing out on a big social moment (for this week anyway) in tech. Microsoft released a tool for facial recognition and one of its teams came up with the idea to build a website that predicts people's age in photos. One office mate yesterday quipped it was the first time in a while that they had used a Microsoft product willingly. Fortune's John Kell tried it out -- and the app's technology estimated he was several years older than his natural age. It is a fun experiment, though if people take it too seriously, the anti-aging cream business may need to send a "thank you" note to Microsoft.  Fortune

 Auto lighting undergoes a quiet revolution

The auto industry is figuring out a new way to add distinction to their models through the increased use of LED lamps, the same technology used in the newest generation of home lighting. LED lamps are smaller, run cooler and use less energy than standard automotive lamps. The cool advancements are coming from Europe and Japan, because regulations in the U.S. have prevented the use of this new technology in cars sold in America.  New York Times (subscription required)

 This industry has lost 94% of its shops in 15 years

Name an industry that is dying faster than newsstands and video-rental stores. If you've already forgotten about America's love for one-hour photo shops, you would be forgiven. But the industry counted just 190 shops at the end of 2013, Bloomberg said, a 94% drop from 1998. That's worse than the performance for other retail niches tied to analog media. “The photo business is dead,” said Dae Kim, who has managed a shop since 2002.  Bloomberg

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