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CEO Daily: Friday, September 18

September 18, 2015

This morning’s post comes to you from Tokyo, where I have spent the day drinking green tea in a variety of offices kept excessively warm to meet environmental goals.


In her press conference yesterday, Fed Chief Janet Yellen said the central bank’s decision to hold interest rates at zero was driven not by financial turbulence, but by concern that financial turbulence reflects a weakened global economic outlook. My conversations with several top Japanese executives, who uniformly declined to be quoted, suggest that concern is correct. The view here is that China is transitioning from hyper growth – 7% to 10% a year — to normal growth – 3% or 4% a year – and financial markets are reacting to that shift.


If that’s what’s causing the Fed to put rate hikes on hold, however, is there any reason to think things will change by year’s end? Fed officials continue to forecast a rise in rates this fall. But their action yesterday makes me wonder whether they will pull the trigger. Asian stock markets showed similar confusion; the Shanghai index rose a half percent while the Nikkei dropped two percent. My colleague Chris Matthews captured the contradiction facing the Fed in an analysis he wrote entitled: “Janet Yellen: The Fed Chair Who Cried Wolf?”


Of equal concern here in Tokyo are the political ramifications of China’s slower growth, as rising nationalism and increasing protectionism rear their heads.


More news below. Enjoy the day. I’m off to dinner.


Alan Murray

Top News

• The cost of Uber-nomics

After a judge recently ruled that a lawsuit brought by Uber drivers could go forward as class-action, Fortune saw an opportunity to answer a vexing question: how much would it cost the ride-sharing tech company to reclassify its drivers as employees. The cost is staggering after Stephen Gandel crunched the numbers: $4. 1 billion. Reimbursements for miles driven, gas and tolls would represent almost two-thirds of that total, while payroll taxes, vacation days and other costs were also tallied.  Fortune

A sunset on golden age of Western Corporations?

The Economist points to a new McKinsey Global Institute report that discovers corporate profits have more than tripled in 1980-2013, rising from 7.6% of global GDP to 10% over that period. That’s the good news, and McKinsey pins that success to the globalization of markets, which reduces costs, as well as an expanding workforce. But firms are entering a difficult era. There are twice as many multinational companies today as in 1990, resulting in more fierce rivalries (which ultimately squeezes margins). And the political environment is more hostile to these successful companies. Economist

• Bitcoin becomes a commodity

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced that for the first time, Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are property defined as commodities. With this move, the CFTC asserts authority to provide oversight of the trading of cryptocurrency futures and options, Bloomberg reports, and in the event of wrongdoing, the CFTC can levy charges against wrongdoers. Additionally, if a company wants to operate a trading platform for Bitcoin, they would need to register.  Bloomberg

• The stocks Lehman still trades

Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy seven years ago and since then, the firm has mostly been selling off what was once a portfolio of $639 billion in assets. But here is what is remarkable: after all that time, someone at Lehman was still buying stocks as recently as last winter. The stock portfolio is pretty tiny now, with individual investments in just two companies: marketing firm Bazaarvoice and insulation maker Aspen Aerogels. But the remnants indicate just how tough it can be to wind down a financial institution as complex as Lehman.  Fortune


• GM pays $900 million in settlement

General Motors agreed to pay nearly a billion as part of a Justice Department probe into the automaker’s failure to fix a deadly ignition-switch defect blamed for more than 120 deaths. But was CEO Daily noted yesterday when the story wasn’t officially confirmed, federal prosecutors weren’t able to pin blame on specific GM employees – though U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara left the door open to do so. “We’re not done, and it remains possible we will charge an individual,” Bharara said.  USA Today

Around the Water Cooler

• The highest paid MPW

Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president for retail and online, is the highest-paid executive on Fortune’s 2015 list of the Most Powerful Women. Her 2014 pay of $73.4 million tops runner up Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer’s annual comp by more than $31 million and remarkably, Ahrendts is the only executive in the top 10 who is not currently a CEO. And because Ahrendts only joined Apple in May of a fiscal year that ended in September, Fortune’s numbers are only capturing five months of pay. Fortune

• Assurant CEO’s interview tips

Here at Fortune, CEOs of the 500 share ideas and leadership advice through a regular feature for our publication’s Insider Network. Alan Colberg, president and CEO of Assurant, wrote about his biggest interview mistake, which he said occurred 30 years ago but provided valuable lessons for when he sought the top jobs at Assurant. Colberg advises that job candidates dig deeper and learn more about a company’s history, culture, strategy and customers. Passion is also important, as well as preparing answers for questions that could be asked.  Fortune

5 things to know today

Trump on Obama, and stocks react to the Fed — 5 things to know today. Today’s story can be found here.