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CEO Daily: Monday, May 16

Good morning.


Today’s a big day for Fortune, for a couple of reasons.


First, today we are launching a new daily newsletter called raceAhead , written by Ellen McGirt, that will focus on the experience of black, brown, Asian and Native Americans moving up through the ranks of U.S. corporations. We believe learning about others in similar situations can help readers in their quest for success, and we also believe better understanding of the challenges of diversity in the modern workplace can lead to better companies. As Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson told Ellen: “People talk about the business case for diversity. In the 21st century, diversity is the business case. Our objective is to get the best out of everyone. And to do that, we need to speak truth to power.”


You can sign up for raceAhead here.


Also today, we’re starting our Brainstorm E conference in sunny Carlsbad, California (I’m tired of waiting for spring in New York), which will bring together a couple hundred of the smartest people we know to look at the intersection of energy and the environment. It’s a busy intersection these days, with big companies and small pushing sustainability agendas and pursuing new clean-energy technologies, but struggling in an environment of still-conflicting government policies and low oil prices.


I’ll be interviewing Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford today, and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris tomorrow. Also making appearances: Bechtel President Brendan Bechtel, clean investment guru Jeremy Grantham, food entrepreneur Kimbal Musk, Opower President Alex Laskey, and Advanced Microgrid Solutions CEO Susan Kennedy and Zipcar President Kaye Ceille.


Follow the discussion at, or tomorrow here in the CEO Daily.


More news below.


Alan Murray






Top News

The E.U. Prepares to Smite Google

The European Union is preparing to hit Google with a 3 bilion euro ($3.4 billion) antitrust fine for promoting its own shopping service at the expense of rivals, according to one British newspaper report over the weekend. That would be nearly three times the E.U.’s previous record of the 1.1 billion euros that it imposed on Intel back in 2009. Such a fine would be an ominous precedent for a second investigation that antitrust Commissioner Margrete Vestager is conducting concurrently into alleged abuse of its Android operating system. It would also be the strongest expression yet of European resistance to disruptive U.S. technology companies, and may embolden national governments in Europe to take a tougher line with the company in ongoing squabbles over tax arrangements.   Fortune

• Amazon Gets Fresh

Amazon is set to roll out a range of private-label brands through its Prime subscription service, in a move that will accompany its first serious push into perishable foods, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. According to the WSJ’s sources, the first of the branded products will hit Amazon’s site within a month. After a week which again exposed the devastation that Amazon has wrought on the department store sector, the news will probably make established grocery store chains swallow hard. Fresh food is a huge market: it accounts for 30% of total food sales, according to Nielsen. But analysts warn that it’s also a business with formidable operational risks (it’s no accident that in the U.K., it’s partnering with an established supermarket chain that has experience of those risks).    WSJ, subscription required

•  Nissan Embroiled in Defeat Device Row

Nissan Motor is the latest company to be hit by allegations that it rigged emissions and fuel consumption data on some of its cars. South Korea on Monday said a government investigation had established that Nissan had installed ‘defeat devices’ on its Qashqai SUVs to help them pass local emissions tests. If proven, the accusations could prove to be expensive: the Qashqai is one of its top-selling and most profitable cars in Europe. But the company stressed that it passed all the required approval procedures in the E.U.. The engines for the Qashqai were developed and supplied by Renault, Nissan’s biggest shareholder, which is under investigation in France, under suspicion of having deceived regulators. It’s the second piece of bad news in a month for Nissan, which only recently found out that Mitsubishi had provided fake fuel consumption data for cars that it rebadged and sold under its own name in Japan. In separate, but indirectly related news, it was reported at the weekend that Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is preparing to join a collective legal action against VW under German law.  WSJ, subscription required

• Pfizer Gets Busy Again

Pfizer said it will buy Anacor Pharmaceuticals in a deal valued at $5.2 billion, net of cash. Anacor’s most important product is crisaborole, a non-steroidal gel used to treat eczema. The deal values Anacor at over 50% more than what the market thought it was worth on Friday evening. Pfizer reckons sales of crisaborole could peak at over $2 billion a year, given that no analogous treatments for atopic dermatitis have been developed in the last 15 years.   Yahoo


• Goldman Lifts Oil Prices

There are better times ahead for those oil firms that are still standing. Crude oil prices have hit a seven-month high overnight after Goldman Sachs, one of the most vociferous bears over the last year, said that the market will flip into deficit “much earlier than we expected.” It raised its forecast for average prices in the second half of this year to $50 a barrel, from a previous estimate of $45/bbl. On the one hand, global demand (a rough proxy for the global economy) is rising more strongly than expected. On the other, there have multiple hits to crude supply in recent weeks: there are major security issues in Libya and, increasingly Nigeria (where a Chevron installation was attacked last week). But the biggest supply-side change is coming from the fall in U.S. shale output, which is down over 8% from last year’s peak due to a wave of bankruptcies. But don’t get carried away: Goldman reckons the market will flip back into surplus in 2017 as higher prices encourage more investment in exploration and production.  Reuters

•  Buffett Waitings in the Wings for Yahoo?

Is Warren Buffett interested in Yahoo? According to Reuters’ sources, The Sage of Omaha is backing a consortium that includes Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, which is seeking to buy Yahoo’s online portfolio. The consortium is in the second round of bidding in the auction for Yahoo’s assets, people familiar with the matter said. Buffett is helping to finance the offer, one of the people added. If Gilbert’s consortium succeeds, the investment would be a relatively rare foray into digital media for Buffett, whose portfolio is heavily weighted toward U.S. insurers, industrial companies and major consumer brands. One intriguing personal connection is that former Yahoo president and chief financial officer Susan Decker is now a director on the board of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett, of course, has a history of betting on struggling and unfashionable companies that maintain a large consumer base. That’s not quite the same as restoring Yahoo’s legacy businesses to growth, though. Fortune

• Putin Under Pressure

Vladimir Putin’s government is showing increasing signs of the pressure on it as the country approaches parliamentary elections in December. In recent weeks, the President has created, to great fanfare in local media, a new National Guard with state-of-the-art anti-riot equipment. The clear aim has been to scare anyone unhappy at falling living standards and corruption in high places from registering their dissatisfaction at the ballot box (and, subsequently, on the streets when the inevitable victory is announced). Those who have preferred to write about the said corruption scandals have faced swift retribution: RBC, one of the country’s biggest private media groups, announced the departure of its top editors late last week. The Kremlin denies putting pressure on the company but one respected newspaper this morning quotes a government official as saying “It’s an information war, what do you expect?” And the Wall Street Journal reports Monday that the government is planning serious tax increases to plug a budget deficit expected at over 4% of GDP. Russian democracy is usually a distorted reflection of the Western type, but in one respect, it’s much closer: the tax increases will only hit after Putin himself has likely been re-elected president in 2018.  WSJ, subscription required

Cook in Beijing

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook visited Beijing on Monday, days after announcing a $1 billion deal with ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing, and as the U.S. firm tries to reinvigorate sales in China, its second-largest market after the U.S. From weakening smartphone sales to the loss of an iPhone trademark dispute and the suspension of some of its online entertainment services, Apple has been facing a flurry of problems in recent weeks in China. Cook has planned to meet high-level government officials, a source familiar with the matter said earlier this month. At an Apple Store in central Beijing on Monday, Cook met with Didi Chuxing President Jean Liu, according to the ride-hailing company on Monday. Cook has said the investment would help Apple better understand the critical Chinese market. Separately, Reuters reported that Didi Chuxing is planning an IPO in the U.S. in 2018. Both Didi and Uber are still making heavy losses in the still-young Chinese market.   Reuters