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Power Sheet – January 11, 2015

Leaders to watch this week:

-President Obama gives his final state of the union speech on Tuesday evening. This speech is generally a snoozer, but a president on his last lap faces an opportunity to break the mold and show some leadership. We’ll see if Obama follows the usual check-the-box formula, nodding dutifully to each executive branch department, or if instead he gets feisty – maybe doing a hard sell on gun control, for example, or attacking the Republican presidential candidates at length.

-Speaking of whom, the Republican candidates hold their sixth debate on Thursday evening, in South Carolina, site of a crucial primary on Feb. 17. Donald Trump leads in polling of Republican likely primary voters, with 38%; Ted Cruz is a distant No. 2 (23%), Marco Rubio a very distant No. 3 (12%), and everyone else is in single digits. Watch to see if anyone has figured out how to talk more than Trump, who has dominated talk-time in previous debates. It’s desperation time for candidates other than the top three, so we may see some Hail Mary gambits. Rules set by the debate host, Fox Business Network, could limit the primetime lineup to as few as six candidates. Anchors Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo will moderate.

-You think the U.S. presidential race has been bizarre? Also on Thursday, Jimmy Morales takes office as president of Guatemala. It’s been quite a year there; the president, vice president, and central bank governor have all gone to prison. Morales ran under the inspiring slogan, “I’m not corrupt and I’m not a crook.” Now we’ll see whether a candidate who was known to most voters as an over-the-top TV personality, who has no governing experience, and whom no one expected to win, can actually run a country. It’s a question that may not be wholly irrelevant in the U.S.

-The chiefs of the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Richmond, and St. Louis all speak publicly this week. Coincidence? I have no idea. But collectively they may shed light on the Fed’s interest rate stance. Last month’s increase was clearly telegraphed, but meeting minutes show that it was actually a close call. Whether the U.S. economy is strong enough to sustain more rate hikes is an open question. While last week’s employment report looked encouraging, other data show the economy grew at only a 0.7% rate last quarter, and manufacturing and construction activity are weak. Last week’s stock market rout –the Dow lost 1,000 points – shows that investors aren’t optimistic about the economy’s future. Could it be that a measly quarter-point increase is all the economy can handle?

Let’s hope this week is better.

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What We’re Reading Today

Starboard calls for Macy’s to strike real-estate deals

With the retailer struggling, Jeffrey Smith‘s investment shop says Macy’s could use its $21 billion of real estate to bring in cash, presumably through sale-leaseback deals. Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren has announced cost-cutting efforts, including job cuts, after a poor holiday season. The company says it will analyze Starboard’s proposal; it began seeking minority partners in some real estate holdings last week.  WSJ

EU rules Belgium must collect millions in back taxes… 

…from 35 multinational companies. EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said Belgium offered special tax breaks to multinationals but not to other companies. Affected multinationals include Carlos Brito‘s Anheuser-Busch InBev, which will owe $764 million. MarketWatch

Clinton and Trump lose their leads

Donald Trump trails Senator Ted Cruz by four percentage points in Iowa, though he retains a strong lead in New Hampshire, where Cruz ranks fourth. Hillary Clinton leads Senator Bernie Sanders by only three points in Iowa and trails him by four points in New Hampshire. Fortune

House looks to overhaul open record process

Republicans enraged by the State Department’s slow response to the Hillary Clinton email scandal have pushed to overhaul processes for releasing government records. Many Democrats also support reform of open-records procedures. The House takes up the issue on Tuesday.  NYT

Building a Better Leader

Companies with a diverse board and a willingness to listen…  

…to employees had a 70% better chance at discovering a new market. Harvard Business Review

Finding ways to make connections with employees…

…even stopping them in the hall to ask about their weekend, can show you care about them. Fortune

Inflection point for women leaders

As studies show companies with diverse boards make more money, and with more women than men getting college degrees, we’re near a turning point for women in leadership, writes author Gloria Feldt. Fast Company

Vehicle Maneuvers

Car makers shift towards trucks and SUVs

President Barack Obama, who has pushed vigorously for higher fuel-efficiency standards and more emissions-free vehicles, will speak at the Detroit Auto Show on January 20. But low gas prices have spurred demand for gas-thirsty SUVs and trucks, which accounted for almost 70% of sales at Mary Barra‘s General Motors last year.   Fortune

Car insurers attempt to get in the car

Progressive CEO Glenn Renwick, like many other auto insurers, has tried to persuade drivers to share driving data with the company. The information could help insurers tailor plans for good drivers (and charge bad drivers higher premiums). But customers who don’t seem to mind sharing data online still don’t feel comfortable sharing personal driving information. WSJ

Volkswagen expanding goodwill program in the U.S.

Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn announced that it will expand a program that provides $500 in cash and $500 in credits to include owners of  2009-2016 diesel VW Touareg SUVs. Audi may also expand the program to include owners of its 3-liter-engine vehicles. Horn added that he has the personal phone number of VW CEO Matthias Müller, something he never had under previous CEO Martin Winterkorn. Reuters

Up or Out

CEO Keith McLoughlin will step down at the Swedish appliance maker Electrolux. The decision comes a month after the U.S. government blocked his deal to buy General Electric’s appliance business. Jonas Samuelson, head of Electrolux’s major appliances business in EMEA, will succeed McLoughlin. WSJ

Fortune Reads and Videos

Should we expect a recession this year?

It’s at least time to prepare for such a possibility. Fortune

David Bowie dies at 69

The music legend was battling cancer for the past 18 months.  Fortune

Mary Barra believes in the Chinese market

GM’s CEO says growth will be volatile but important for the long term. Fortune

Time to buy back into Apple? 

Depends if you’re a believer or not. Fortune

On this day…

…in 2001, AOL’s merger with Time Warner became official. The combination created a $350-billion media giant. In 2002 the company reported a $54-billion quarterly loss, the largest ever by a U.S. company, as it wrote down the deal’s value.  History

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