The process of choosing the next President of the United States begins in earnest today with caucuses in Iowa – an embarrassment to democracy, but a proud tradition nonetheless.
The final Iowa poll this weekend, conducted by the Des Moines Register, showed Donald Trump leading Ted Cruz on the Republican side, 28% to 23%, and Hillary Clinton edging out Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, 45% to 42%. But in truth, both races are a toss up. The polls can’t be taken too seriously, as caucuses require a huge commitment of time by participants, and no pollster can reliably predict who will show up. Cruz has an organizational advantage over Trump; Clinton has a geographical advantage over Sanders, since his most intense supporters tend to be concentrated in certain areas.
Sanders closed out his campaign by going negative against Clinton, saying she’s in the pocket of Wall Street. Ted Cruz attacked the entire U.S. political structure, saying Iowans should support him because “the Washington elites” despise him. Trump, in classic style, ended his campaign by insulting Iowa caucus goers: “You have a lousy record – 16 years you haven’t picked a winner. Pick me this time.”
What’s missing in this four-person showdown, entertaining though it is, is a candidate who reflects the views of business – supporting free trade, reasonable immigration, limited government, and a pragmatic approach to solving problems. My former colleagues at the Pew Research Center did a typology of the American voter in 2014 that showed roughly 17% of voters fit into a category they called “business conservatives.” Those folks don’t have a viable horse in tonight’s race. Marco Rubio may emerge as their best bet with a likely third place finish on the GOP side. Business campaign donors don’t quite know what to do.
It’s going to be a long year.
More news below.
• James Bond, Adele help Sony soar
Shares jumped after the hit James Bond film “Spectre” and record-breaking sales of Adele’s “25” helped Sony report a better-than-expected profit. Analysts gave the credit to the company’s games and music businesses, and confirmation of steady progress to improve the mobile segment. The chip unit, however, was problematic. Like many rival chip firms and smartphone makers, it was stung by decelerating demand for those devices in mature markets and China. Bloomberg
• Chipotle’s nightmare may soon end
The Wall Street Journal has reported that the E. coli outbreak that has sickened more than 50 Chipotle Mexican Grill customers across nine states in 2015 is expected to be declared over as soon as Monday. Citing sources familiar with the probe, investigators haven’t been able to pinpoint what ingredient was responsible for the contamination. Though the probe may be over, damage was done to Chipotle’s reputation, resulting in a sliding sales and stock price since the first cases surfaced in late October. Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
• HSBC to freeze salaries, hiring in 2016
Europe’s largest lender has reportedly imposed a hiring and pay freeze across the bank globally, Reuters has reported, as the bank is in the midst of a cost-cutting drive to lift profitability and returns to shareholders. Last year, HSBC said it would slash nearly one in five jobs and shrink its investment bank in response to sluggish economic growth and tighter global regulation of balance sheet risk. Reuters
• Barclays, Credit Suisse to settle probe
Two of Europe’s biggest banks, Barclays and Credit Suisse, are planning to pay a combined $154.3 million to settle allegations they misrepresented their private stock trading services. The settlement was being completed over the weekend and scheduled to be announced on Monday, various media outlets reported. It is alleged the banks misrepresented their private stock trading services, systems that are supposed to offer a haven to traditional traders and investors from predatory trading behavior. New York Times (subscription required)
• China arrests 21 in Ponzi scheme bust
Chinese police have arrested 21 people involved in the operation of peer-to-peer (P2P) lender Ezubao, over a purported online scam that took some $7.6 billion from about 900,000 investors. Ezubao was a Ponzi scheme, according to the official Xinhua news agency, with more than 95% of the projects on the online financing platform alleged to be fake. Among those arrested were Ding Ning, the chairman of Yucheng Group, which launched Ezubao in July 2014. CNBC
Around the Water Cooler
• Musk drops in on MIT after contest win
A student-led Hyperloop design team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was named the winner of a SpaceX-organized contest to build passenger pods for the futuristic transportation system known as the Hyperloop. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, first published the idea of a Hyperloop in 2013 in which pods would carry passengers and cargo through tubes at up to 700 miles per hour. He also attended the event where the finalists were named and gave an unscheduled pep talk to the crowd. Fortune
• The best stock over the past 30 years
It isn’t Nike. Nor is it Home Depot, Apple, Altria Group and Amgen – all of which have soared over that 30-year time period. As News Corp’s MoneyBeat blog points out, that star performer is Balchem, a maker of flavorings and fumigating gases that is only work about $1.7 billion. Since the end of 1985, it has gained an average of 26.2% annually, easily beating the S&P 500’s 10.3%. The company’s stock is up an astonishing 107,099% since the end of 1985. MoneyBeat blog