CEO Daily: Friday, December 11
A few things to highlight this morning:
-A Reuters investigative report out yesterday explores the widespread practice of basing CEO compensation on earnings per share, then boosting those earnings through share repurchases. The rise in share repurchases is not so much the result of executive greed as it is a rational response to shareholder pressures in an age of cheap money and slow growth. But there is something perverse about boosting CEO bonuses through buy-backs. The Reuters analysis found that 255 of the companies in the S&P 500 Index reward executives in part by using EPS. A select few companies – Johnson & Johnson, FedEx, Time Warner Inc., IBM – strip out the potential effect of buybacks on performance metrics to determine pay. Others should follow their lead.
-In China, Guo Guangchang, head of China’s Fosun Group and one of China’s richest men, has “gone missing” – a euphemism for those detained in the government’s crackdown on corruption. The company says it has not been able to contact Mr. Guo in the last day, and social media reports say he was last seen with police in Shanghai. Mr. Guo referred to himself as “China’s Warren Buffett.” The folks at Quartz have assembled a useful list of all the Chinese businesspeople who have “gone missing” this year.
-For those trying to make sense of a country where top CEOs can “go missing,” Fortune’s Scott Cendrowski has a story in our January magazine exploring the Seven Things investors need to know about China. You can, and should, read it here.
More news below.
• Halliburton-Baker Hughes deal still faces long road to approval
Plenty of antitrust obstacles still stand in the way of Halliburton completing the $35 billion acquisition of rival oil services company Baker Hughes even though more than a year has passed since the companies reached a deal. There are concerns in the U.S. Justice Department, and with other regulators around the world, that the tie-up could damage competition in the industry—especially at a time when plummeting oil prices have caused drilling activity to dry up. Executives from both companies continue to talk with regulators in hopes of gaining approval, but Halliburton now expects the deal won't close until next year. Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
• More states designating Uber drivers as independent contractors
Ohio and Florida are set to become the latest states to pass laws requiring that Uber drivers be treated as independent contractors—a designation that is critical to the multi-billion-dollar startup's business model as it allows the company to avoid providing the drivers with a package of benefits. Lawmakers in the two states would join those in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Indiana, which have already passed similar laws governing transportation network companies—a category under which Uber falls. The ride-sharing startup still faces a major potential challenge to its business, though, as a class action lawsuit in California claims Uber's independent contractor model violates labor laws. Reuters
• Ford expands its electric car program
Ford Motor said Thursday it plans to pump an additional $4.5 billion into the development of hybrids and electric vehicles over the next five years. The giant U.S. automaker plans to add 13 new vehicles that are either hybrid or electric by 2020, which would make more than 40% of the company's vehicle lines electric. And, next year, Ford will release an updated version of its electric Ford Focus that can recharge in half an hour and will have a range of 100 miles per charge. Fortune
• Barclays hiring freeze extended until March
Barclays is expected to extend its hiring freeze until March, sources tell Bloomberg, as new CEO Jes Staley looks to expand cost-cutting measures at the U.K. bank. The moratorium on new hires—excepting some critical executive positions—started in September under the direction of chairman John McFarlane and was meant to last through the end of the year. Staley took over the bank at the start of this month and has been weighing the possibility of laying off another 20% of staff in Barclays' investment banking arm. Bloomberg
Around the Water Cooler
• Little-known electric car player builds in Tesla's backyard
Faraday Future, a low-profile entrant in the electric car space, said Thursday it plans to build a $1 billion factory in Nevada starting in early 2016. The chosen site is just a 6.5-hour drive from the giant $5 billion battery factory that Elon Musk's Tesla Motors is building near Reno. Faraday, which is backed in part by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting, signaled that it likely intends to compete with Tesla by choosing to build so close to one of Elon Musk's big projects. The company also said it could venture into self-driving vehicle technology at some point. Fortune
• Fed rate hike will pave way for banking battle
Wall Street's biggest banks could face a heightened challenge from the growing ranks of online lenders once the Federal Reserve finally moves forward with its long-awaited interest rate hike. On one hand, large banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, look forward to the rate hike as it will mean greater income on loans with floating rates, but old school financial institutions are also concerned that online lenders with lower infrastructure costs could lure away customers with their flexibility to offer more attractive rates on deposits. Financial Times (subscription required)
• Stock declines spurred Q3 wealth drop
The Federal Reserve on Thursday reported that U.S. household wealth fell for the first time in four years in the third quarter. Wealth declined by $1.23 trillion, or 1.4%, during a quarter that saw the stock market take a dive to the tune of a 6.9% drop for the S&P 500 over three months. Market struggles led to the dip in household wealth, but the market's ability to recover much of its losses since the third quarter ended means the Fed is unlikely to allow the quarterly decline to stand in the way of the central bank's plan to raise interest rates before the end of the year. Fortune
5 things to know today
Missing Billionaires and U.S. Retail Sales--5 Things to Know Today. Today's story can be found here.