Is globalization in retreat?
That’s the fear I hear from U.S. business leaders these days, as Donald Trump competes with Democratic candidates in his opposition to trade agreements, and keeps adding footage to his “great” wall on the southern border. (See last night’s debate highlights here.) British business leaders have their own version of this in Boris Johnson, who is leading the charge for an exit from the European Union. Meanwhile, in Shanghai yesterday, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned G20 finance ministers and central bankers that global monetary policies and negative interest rates risk creating a “beggar thy neighbor” environment of competitive currency devaluations that “simply move scarce demand from one country to another.” The end result of all of this, warn top economists at Citigroup, could well be a recession this year or next.
Global trade in goods has flattened since 2008, and global capital flows have declined. The surge global flows of people has had largely negative consequences in the short run, creating numerous political crises around the world. But there is one area where globalization is storming ahead in a positive way: data. A report from the McKinsey Global Institute this week finds the usage of cross-border bandwidth has grown 45 times larger than it was in 2005, and become more important to global GDP growth than trade in goods. Moreover, the flows of data have included emerging markets in a way that flows of goods and capital never did.
“The world has never been more connected,” says James Manyika, author of the report, “but the nature of those connections has changed in a fundamental way… As digital platforms create global markets and user bases, they are changing the economics of doing business across borders, who is participating, how rapidly competition moves, and where the benefits are flowing.” You can read the full report here.
Unfortunate that our politics are stuck in the past when the future is coming so quickly.
More news below.
• Halliburton cutting more jobs
Halliburton announced it will cut another 5,000 jobs, or 8% of the company’s global workforce, as it positions itself to survive a lengthening crude market downturn. These layoffs come after the provider of drilling and hydraulic fracturing services trimmed nearly 4,000 jobs in the final three months of 2015. With the latest layoffs, the company will have let go nearly 29,000 workers – or more than a quarter of its headcount since staffing reached its peak in late 2014. Bloomberg
• China’s central bank offers assurances
Ahead of a meeting with his G20 counterparts in Shanghai today, China’s central bank governor broke his lengthy public speaking silence to assure the world: 1) exports are fine 2) capital outflows are mostly normal, and, most importantly, 3) China will not devalue its currency again like it did last August, sending markets into a tizzy and creating countless “global currency war” headlines. Governor Zhou Xiaochuan spoke at a press conference before the G20 meeting of finance minister and central bankers this Friday and Saturday in Shanghai, where China’s economy was expected to be the topic guests were keen to learn more about. He said “China’s overall exports remain strong,” capital outflows remained “largely normal” and there was “no basis” for more declines for the yuan. Fortune
• SunEdison’s shares get a jolt
Renewable energy company basked in some warm, stock market sunlight on Thursday following news that the company broke on a pair of deals. Vivint Solar’s shareholders approved a proposed $1.9 billion sale to SunEdison on Thursday morning. Meanwhile, a separate report said SunEdison formed a strategic partnership with China’s Jinneng Group, with the two companies opening a joint venture factory to develop high-powered silicon solar cells. Fortune
• Sears CEO laments unfair “criticism”
Sears reported a wider net loss and a big sales drop for the holiday season quarter. These woes aren’t anything new for the retailer: it hasn’t reported an increase in annual comparable sales since Sears and Kmart were merged in 2005. Yet CEO Eddie Lampert says critics are being too harsh. “It is unfair to evaluate our approach through the rearview mirror without acknowledging the changing circumstances in our industry as well as our bold attempts to change the way we do business.” While Sears may be trying to change, the latest results highlight the retailer continues to lag its peers badly. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• SeaWorld employees posed as activists
SeaWorld Chief Executive Joel Manby told analysts during a conference call that the company’s executives told management that employees could no longer pose as activists. That’s the first time that SeaWorld, which often faces sharp criticism from animal rights activists, has admitted to the practice of infiltrating animal rights groups. Manby says the company had done this to “maintain safety and security of employees, customers and animals in the face of credible threats.” Fortune
• The deal that’s become a nightmare
This New York Times story is a fascinating look at how a deal that looks promising on paper can turn into a major boondoggle in a matter of months. Energy Transfer Equity scored a big $38 billion deal to buy rival Williams Companies, which would create the nation’s largest pipeline operator. But shares in both firms have plummeted, shedding a combined $37 billion in value – in response to weak energy prices and worries about the complicated merger. Now Energy Transfer executives are scrambling, and according to the NYT, searching for a way to pull out of the deal. New York Times (subscription required)
• Gap’s woes to linger into 2016
The largest U.S. specialty apparel retailer gave a modest profit forecast for 2016 that suggested to investors it would continue to face challenges this year as Gap aims to improve its business. The profit forecast, which missed Wall Street’s expectations, comes after a horrible year for Gap. The namesake brand’s comparable sales slipped 6% in fiscal 2015, while Banana Republic’s were down 10% and Old Navy’s was flat for the year. Fortune
• What’s weighing on Weight Watchers?
Weight Watchers’ shares have been yo-yoing dramatically since October. While the diet company’s users are looking to lose weight, investors are also finding themselves digesting a steep loss. Shares dropped on Thursday after the company reported a surprise fourth-quarter loss and a 21% drop in revenue. It also projected a steep first-quarter loss as it ramps up marketing to recruit new members and indicated that a rebound in revenue would take time. Investors had likely hoped that an investment and endorsement from media mogul Oprah Winfrey would provide a boost to the brand more quickly. Fortune