The White House has put out word that President Obama won’t be announcing a host of new initiatives in his final State of the Union address tonight – a relief to business leaders who feel they’ve faced an onslaught of new regulation in the Obama years.
Instead, the president plans to make his speech more aspirational, delivering his vision for the future of the nation, and attempting to burnish his legacy in the process. And, oh yes, there will be a strong pitch for tougher gun control – punctuated by an empty seat in the gallery to honor those killed by gun violence. But there is only so much the President can do on this front without congressional assent.
Two years ago, the President famously announced his intention to use his executive authority to get around congressional intransigence. My colleague Tory Newmyer reports this morning that, true to that promise, Obama has issued more major regulations in the last two years than either of his two predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – although not by as much as sometimes thought.
In each of the last two years, the President has issued 81 major regulations with an impact of $100 million or more, compared to the average of 65 a year during the Bush years. Yet the number was less than the 95 issued during President Bush’s last year in office, at the onset of the financial crisis. And it was less than President Obama’s first two years in office, when health care and financial legislation led to 84 and 100 major new regulations.
Meanwhile, collapsing oil markets are raising new fears about the oil patch wreckage that will be caused if prices linger in the 20s, Volkswagen continues to flub its crisis management, and my old boss Rupert Murdoch announced he’s marrying Mick Jagger’s old flame Jerry Hall. Murdoch is 84.
Hard to top that. Enjoy the day.
• Carl Icahn denies Time Warner stake reports
Activist investor Carl Icahn told CNBC he “[does not] own one share of Time Warner,” denying media reports on Monday that he was accumulating a large stake in the media giant. Time Warner has faced activist pressure of late to explore a sale or a spin-off of HBO, with rumors even resurfacing of a new takeover bid from 21st Century Fox. Icahn actually did take a stake in Time Warner a decade ago, when he unsuccessfully tried to pressure the company into a split. CNBC
• Oil’s latest drop brings bankruptcy fears
The latest plunge in the price of crude oil—which dropped another 5% on Monday to nearly $30 per barrel—brought prices to roughly one-third of their July 2014 peak. Oil prices have been pushed down by global oversupply as well as China’s economic turmoil and a strong U.S. dollar. Now, analysts at Wolfe Research estimate that up to one-third of oil-and-gas producers in the U.S. could face bankruptcy, or some type of restructuring, by the middle of next year without a price rebound to at least $50 a barrel. More than 30 small companies in the industry, with a combined debt load exceeding $13 billion, have already filed for Chapter 11 protection. Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
• Survey finds most women in tech report experiencing sexual harassment
A new survey of more than 200 women in the tech industry—most of whom have at least a decade of experience, with many respondents including executives—finds that a startling number of those women reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. A total of 60% of women reported receiving unwanted sexual advances, with a majority of those women saying that at least one advance came from a superior. Worse still, 39% of those women said they did not report the harassment out of fear of hurting their careers, while a majority of those who did report the behavior were unsatisfied by the response. Fortune
• Lululemon looks like it’s found its Chakra again.
Yoga wear retailer Lululemon Athletica surprised investors, who were likely bracing for holiday disappointment, by raising its sales and profit forecast for the fourth quarter. The move follows a highly successful holiday season where Lululemon says its strong in-store and online sales helped exceed fourth-quarter expectations. Investors had been concerned about the retailer’s holiday performance after analysts reported higher clearance levels than in previous years and deeper markdowns. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• Google exec says drone deliveries could come in a year
Google’s David Vos, who heads Google X’s Project Wing drone program, said at an industry event on Monday that the use of drones to deliver goods to customers is possible within the next one to three years. Vos believes there is enough unoccupied space in the airways to make room for commercial drones, which he said can operate safely and efficiently. Google is working with NASA to create an air traffic control system for drones that would regulate airspace for unmanned aircraft. CNN
• VW CEO’s claim puts automaker in spin mode
Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller was forced to backtrack a bit after initially telling NPR on Monday that the troubled German automaker had not lied to U.S. regulators about the software installed in its cars that masked harmful diesel emissions, with Müller calling it “a technical problem.” The CEO said: “We didn’t lie. We didn’t understand the question first.” Fortune notes that those comments likely caused a stir within VW’s communications team, as Müller later returned to the issue in a second interview where he went back to what has been the company’s consistently contrite messaging, saying VW “fully accept[s] the violation.” The CEO is currently in a tough spot, as he will meet with EPA officials on Wednesday to present VW’s plan for a technical fix to many of the 600,000 U.S. cars affected by the scandal. Failure to win over regulators with that plan would result in pressure on VW to repurchase most of those cars. Fortune
• What’s next for The New Republic (again)?
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is ditching his attempt at turning around old media stalwart The New Republic just four years after he bought the political magazine. Hughes said he’s spent $20 million over four years trying to steer the publication toward profitability (after paying $2 million to acquire it in 2012) and he’s ready to move on by putting the magazine up for sale. Fortune’s Mathew Ingram suggests there are only a handful of possible outcomes left for The New Republic, including the possibility of another wealthy individual buyer to replace Hughes. Another option is for a large media conglomerate to acquire the magazine, otherwise it could simply go out of business. Fortune
5 things to know today
Murdoch’s engagement and Obama’s final State of the Union—5 things to know today. Today’s story can be found here.