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CEO Daily: Monday, March 28

One of the greatest tragedies of U.S. Election 2016 is the thorough—and unjustified—pounding that trade agreements have taken in the political discourse. The benefits of open trade have always been a hard sell to the public. In an election when the public is turning against the “elites,” it has become the first casualty.


Donald Trump uses bilateral trade numbers as a kind of scorecard, with deficits showing we are “losing” against China, Japan, Germany, etc. Bernie Sanders—who swept contests this weekend in Alaska, Washington, and Hawaii—prides himself as having “voted against NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China,” and any other trade agreement that has crossed his desk. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has abandoned public support for trade in an effort to say whatever she must to win the race. No matter how the election turns out, the damage this has done to public understanding of the importance of trade in creating prosperity for all will last for a long time.


So kudos to FedEx CEO Fred Smith for his recent speech, reprinted in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, on “How Trade Made America Great.” You can read it here. (subscription required.) There’s also a smart piece in the New York Times’ Upshot this weekend entitled “The Trade Deficit Isn’t a Scorecard and Cutting It Won’t Make America Great Again.” And my former colleague Paul Blustein has written a thoughtful commentary for Fortune here.


We don’t expect any of this to turn back the raging tide. But with politicians leading in the wrong direction, someone needs to point the way.


More news below.


Alan Murray

Top News

California reaches deal on minimum wage

California lawmakers and union leaders have reached a tentative deal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 over six years that could avert a campaign to bring the issue to voters, local media newspapers reported, citing sources. The deal would add to a wave of minimum wage increases at the state level in the U.S., where the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour for more than six years. The agreement would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $10 to $15 in 2022. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have one extra year to comply with the proposed law. Reuters

Avon nears deal to avoid proxy fight

Avon Products is close to a deal with activist investors that would enable the beauty-products retailer to sidestep a proxy fight. The Wall Street Journal reports Avon is planning to announce as early as Monday that it reached an agreement with two investors that would allow them to approve a new independent director for the company’s board. As part of the pact, the Barington-NuOrion group, which owns more than 3% of Avon, wouldn’t mount a fight for board seats at the May 26 annual meeting. The agreement comes as Avon has struggled with declining revenue and just after the company sold its North American operations while also cutting jobs. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Mexicans burn Trump effigies

Mexicans celebrating an Easter ritual late on Saturday burnt effigies of U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, whose anti-immigrant views have sparked outrage south of the American border. Media reported that Trump effigies burned across Mexico, from Puebla to Mexico’s industrial hub Monterrey. The burning is part of a widespread Mexican Holy Week tradition where neighborhoods burn effigies to represent Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ according to the Bible. The effigies are often modeled on unpopular political figures. Trump, the front-runner to win the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 election, has drawn fire in Mexico with his campaign vow to build a wall along the southern U.S. border to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs, and to make Mexico pay for it. Reuters

Dell sells IT Consulting unit

Japan’s NTT Data said on Monday it has agreed to buy Dell’s information technology consulting division for over $3 billion to expand in North America and bolster its services business. The move will allow U.S. computer maker Dell to trim some of the $43 billion in debt it is taking on to fund its pending cash-and-stock acquisition of data storage provider EMC, a deal worth close to $60 billion. The sale will also offer NTT Data, one of the world’s largest technology services companies, a bigger foothold in the U.S., where it is looking to expand in health care IT, insurance, and financial services consulting. Reuters

Al Jazeera Media lays off 500

Al Jazeera Media Network has reportedly fired about 500 people, with most of the layoffs occurred at Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar, the country’s capital. This comes as the state-funded broadcaster, which gets some of its money from Qatar’s ruling family, the House of Thani, is redirecting its focus on digital operations. The action comes after Al Jazeera earlier this year announced plans to shut down its U.S. branch after failing to find an audience. That shutdown should be complete by April 30. Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

“Batman v Superman” muscles box office

Batman v Superman opened with weekend sales of $170.1 million in North American theaters, meeting estimates and giving the studio a new foundation to build on. The movie vaulted to the top of the box-office charts in the U.S. and Canada, setting the record for the biggest weekend domestic opening. The strong showing is important for Warner Bros., as the studio is planning  a string of films based on DC comics characters over the next several years. “It’s a great way to launch our next program of movies,” said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president for domestic distribution at Warner. Bloomberg
Google makes short-lived return to China

Google Search, which has been blocked in China for the last six years, was reportedly accessible for a short while on Sunday night. People in mainland China were able to use Google for more than an hour, though the site was quickly shuttered again. China has a substantial censorship mechanism in place—the so-called Golden Shield or Great Firewall—for blocking access to the many websites that authorities deem inappropriate or unwelcome. Google’s various services—including YouTube and Gmail—have been added to the firewall’s blocklist over the past seven years. Fortune

Billy Dee Williams again backs Colt 45

Actor Billy Dee Williams is again serving as malt liquor brand Colt 45’s spokesman after working with the alcoholic beverage for five years starting in 1986. Now, Williams, 78, appears in a new 15-second video, to be released Monday, that teases an upcoming TV, print, and online marketing campaign in which he is the star. The new campaign by Colt 45 owner Pabst Brewing Co. comes as the malt liquor has fallen behind other rivals in terms of sales. Colt 45 has garnered a good amount of controversy over the years that is must shake off, including accusations that it targeted minorities and that a tagline “It works every time” suggested the beer could be used to get women intoxicated quickly. USA Today