CEO Daily: Friday, April 8
The scuttling of the Pfizer-Allergan deal means Obama’s regulators have now killed some $370 billion worth of deals during their tenure – an unprecedented amount, according to the Financial Times. Other big deals that were scotched include AbbVie’s $55 billion takeover of Ireland-based Shire, Comcast’s $71 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable, AT&T’s $39 billion bid for T-Mobile, and Nasdaq’s $11 billion takeover of the New York Stock Exchange.
That’s five deals bigger than $10 billion blocked during the Obama years, compared to one in the George W. Bush administration and two during Bill Clinton’s administration.
That may partly reflect a greater urge to merge in today’s economy, given high levels of corporate cash, low interest rates and sluggish growth. But it also reflects a strong activist bent, unseen since the 1970s, on the part of Obama’s regulators. And there is more to come, according to this morning’s Wall Street Journal. Thwarted in Congress, the President is racing to cement his legacy with more regulation, targeting everything from overtime pay for white-collar workers to new sugar disclosures on flavored milk cartons. Obama’s tally of major regulations has already reached 392 – exceeding George W. Bush at 358 and Bill Clinton at 361 – and there are 47 more sitting on the drawing board for this year.
Enjoy the weekend.
2015 Was CEOs' Worst Year for Pay Since Crisis
Compensation for the chief executives of the biggest U.S. companies fell more sharply last year than any year since the financial crisis, The Wall Street Journal reports. Median pay for the top bosses of just under 300 large publicly traded companies fell 3.8% to $10.8 million from $11.2 million in 2014, as weaker corporate performance slowed cash bonuses and accounting rules pared back pension growth. WSJ, subscription required
• Yahoo Extends Sale Deadline by a Week
Yahoo is extending the deadline for buyers to file bids for its core businesses by one week to April 18, according to re/code. The closely-watched sale is something of a proxy verdict by the market on CEO Marissa Mayer's stewardship and strategy. So far, it has failed to generate much firm interest beyond that from Verizon, which already signalled its intent to become more of a digital media business last year by buying AOL. re/code
Bezos Still Snarled in India's Regulatory Thicket
India's plans to liberalize retail and e-commerce were met with much hoopla earlier in the week, but the small print still shows plenty of hurdles to CEO Jeff Bezos' dream of making it Amazon's second-biggest market after the U.S. A clause in the new rules bars e-marketplaces from depending too much on one seller to 25% of total sales, but Amazon's Cloudtail JV accounts for over 40%-50% at present. One consolation is that Amazon's largest local rival, Flipkart, also suffers from the same problem. NYT
• China Staunches Capital Outflows (a Bit)
The flood of money leaving China appears to have slowed down, at least for now. The People's Bank of China said foreign exchange reserves rose for the first time in five months in March. That's important because, as the IMF warned at the start of the week, a financial crisis in China would be a hammer blow to a fragile world economy. The bad news is that the PBoC's number ought to have been a lot better: adjusted for market fluctuations, the central bank was still selling lots of FX to keep the yuan stable last month. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• Facebook Struggles to Stop Arms Sales on its Network
Facebook may have recently brought in a ban on gun sales, but it seems terrorists still use the social network to acquire weapons. A New York Times report suggested “online bazaars” have been set up to serve people in countries where ISIS has a strong presence, such as Syria, Iraq and Libya. The marketplaces involved secret or closed Facebook groups, selling everything from heavy machine guns to heat-seeking missiles and anti-aircraft systems, although most of the weapons for sale were smaller handguns and rifles. Fortune
• Return of the Gaucho
Argentina is coming back to the bond market, only weeks after settling with holdout creditors who sued after its last default. Marketing for a $12.5 billion bond sale—its first since 2001--starts in New York and London next week. Meanwhile at home, new President Mauricio Macri, who has had an unwelcome distraction this week in the form of a walk-on role in the Panama Papers, is prescribing some tough economic medicine by raising utility and other publicly-administered prices by up to 300% as he tries to rectify years of ruinous policies under the Peronist Kircher administration. Financial Times
Philip Morris Stubs out Legal Risk Over Marlboro Lights
A St. Louis jury has rejected a request for about $1.8 billion in damages against Philip Morris USA in a class-action lawsuit that claimed the company misled smokers about the health risks of “light” cigarettes. The lawsuit, filed 16 years ago, alleged the Altria Group Inc unit violated Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act in marketing Marlboro Lights. The ruling appears to end the company's legal risk over the issue: Illinois' Supreme Court already overturned a similar $10.1 billion verdict against it a similar long-running lawsuit over 'light' cigarettes in November. Fortune
• It’s Starting to Look Ugly for Cameron
British Prime Minister David Cameron is under increasing pressure after finally admitting (at the fifth time of asking) that he held and profited from shares in an offshore trust set up by his late father. Cameron sold the shares for around $50,000 just before winning the general election in 2010, and he’s being roundly castigated, firstly for having failed to declare them at the time, and secondly for a string of reluctant and partial responses that have created an impression at odds with his claim that he had not acted improperly. Cameron said Thursday that he had paid all due U.K. tax on dividends from the holding, and on its sale. BBC