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CEO Daily: Wednesday, August 3rd

August 3, 2016, 10:09 AM UTC

Good morning.


HP’s Meg Whitman may be more closely tied to the Republican party than any other big company CEO. She not only ran as a GOP candidate for governor of California, but also served as a close adviser to presidential candidates McCain and Romney, and as national finance co-chair for Chris Christie.


So her break with the party yesterday deserves some attention. “To vote Republican out of party loyalty alone would be to endorse a candidacy that I believe has exploited anger, grievance, xenophobia and racial division,” Whitman said in a statement. “Donald Trump’s demagoguery has undermined the fabric of our national character.” She urged every Republican to reject him for the upcoming November presidential election, and said she would vote for Hillary Clinton instead.


Clinton is enjoying an eight point lead in the latest poll, but that could be the temporary bump that normally follows a successful convention. The punditocracy seems to believe Trump, who has broken every known rule of American politics thus far, has finally crossed a line by criticizing the “gold star” family of fallen war hero Humayun Khan. We shall see.


Meanwhile, the signature achievement of the Obama administration took a body blow yesterday when Aetna announced it is withdrawing plans to extend its Obamacare business, which is losing $300 million a year. CEO Mark Bertolini said big changes are needed to make the federal program viable: “We’ve got to be able to cover the costs associated with providing the care.” United Health and Humana have already retreated from the market.


More news below.

Alan Murray

Top News

Biogen Spikes on Deal Rumors

Shares of biotechnology company Biogen finished Tuesday up nearly 10% on rumors that larger pharma rivals could be kicking the tires on a potential takeover bid for Biogen that would likely be worth around $75 billion. Industry giants Allergan and Merck are among those rumored to be interested in buying Biogen, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the company has held informal deal talks with interested parties. Any deal would represent a continuation of the trend of consolidation in the healthcare industry while creating a new pharma monster. Biogen is ripe for a takeover at the moment, with CEO George Scangos planning to step down in a matter of months, while the company's share price is still down more than 30% from its all-time high in March 2015. Fortune

Bitcoin Plunges After Discovery of Hackers' Theft

The price of bitcoin plunged Tuesday night following the discovery of one of the largest thefts in the short history of the virtual currency. The news that hackers reportedly made off with up to $65 million worth of bitcoin resulted in major declines on heavy trading yesterday, leaving bitcoin down nearly 20% for the week, so far. The Hong Kong-based Bitfinex, one of the largest digital currency exchanges, suspended trading late on Tuesday after discovering the security breach. Perhaps the biggest obstacles standing between bitcoin and wider adoption are hacking and theft, which is why the incident discovered on Tuesday is especially bad news for the three-year-old digital currency. Past security breaches in the digital currency space include the alleged theft of roughly $60 million worth of rival currency ethereum earlier this summer, while a massive breach at Japanese exchange Mt. Gox resulted in roughly $650 million worth of bitcoin being stolen in 2014. Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

 Global Stocks Continue Decline Despite Euro Banks' Rebound

U.K. bank HSBC announced a $2.5 billion stock buyback plan for this year early Wednesday, sending shares of the financial giant climbing nearly 4% in pre-market trading to give HSBC its biggest gains in months. Meanwhile, shares of France's Société Générale also surged on strong second-quarter earnings, as the outlook for European banks turned brighter on Wednesday following weak results earlier this week. However, the rebound did not prevent global stocks from posting their third-straight day of losses, led again by concerns over Japan's weaker-than-expected financial stimulus package as well as the upcoming interest rates announcement coming from the Bank of England on Thursday. Reuters

Taiwan Say it Will Boot Uber From its Market

The Investment Commission in Taiwan said on Wednesday that it will soon order Uber out of its domestic market, saying that the ride-hailing startup misrepresented itself as a web-based information technology platform instead of as a transportation company. The regulatory body will make a final decision next week on Uber, which has faced a variety of legal issues in Asian markets, such as China and Hong Kong. The news also comes as Uber looks to unload its Chinese business in a deal worth $35 billion with the leading ride-hailing service in that region, Didi Chuxing, after the U.S. company spent billions of dollars in that market while struggling to gain a foothold.  Reuters

Around the Water Cooler

 What America's Five Most-Valuable Companies Now Have in Common

They're all tech giants, as of last week. After oil behemoth Exxon Mobil's weak second-quarter results sent its share price down more than 7%, the company dropped below e-commerce giant Amazon and social media company Facebook in the rankings of America's most valuable companies by market value. Exxon's drop came a week after those same two tech companies displaced Warren Buffett's investment vehicle Berkshire Hathaway from the list, meaning that the five largest U.S. traded stocks by market cap now hail from the tech industry. Amazon and Facebook, which have added more than $113 billion and $91.9 billion to their respective values over the past year, round out a new tech-heavy top five that is led by Apple, Google parent Alphabet, and Microsoft, in that order. Fortune

Trump University Fraud Lawsuit Will Proceed, Judge Rules

A federal judge in San Diego ruled on Tuesday that a lawsuit brought by former Trump University students will proceed toward trial. Judge Gonzalo Curiel—whom the defendant, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, has accused of potential bias due to his Mexican heritage—rejected an attempt by Trump's lawyers to dismiss the class action lawsuit, ruling that the suit raised a legitimate question of whether or not Trump "knowingly participated in a scheme to defraud" students through the now defunct seminar business. Judge Curiel also decided not to allow the release of video depositions of Trump from the case out of concern over creating potential bias among jurors. Trump University is involved in multiple class action lawsuits, including a separate case brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that is also moving toward trial. The Los Angeles Times

Facebook's Snapchat Obsession

On Tuesday, Facebook unveiled its latest attempt at recreating a popular Snapchat feature for its own use in the form of a new feature for the Facebook-owned Instagram called Stories. The feature—which is practically identical to Snapchat's Stories feature—lets Instagram users photo and video collections that disappear after 24 hours, just like its ephemeral-messaging service rival. Facebook has made several previous attempts to copy Snapchat's success, including offering other ephemeral-messaging features that the company later ditched. As Fortune's Matthew Ingram points out, while disappearing messages aren't the most attractive feature for advertisers, users clearly flock to Snapchat so they can have the option to post content that won't live online forever and isn't subjected to the judgment of "likes" or "favorites." Fortune

 Viacom Execs Held Settlement Talks with Sumner Redstone’s Family

Reports surfaced on Tuesday that lawyers representing Viacom and National Amusements, the investment vehicle of media mogul Sumner Redstone’s family, recently held secret talks in an attempt to reach a settlement in the ongoing legal battle that has cast uncertainty over the future of Redstone’s media empire. Bloomberg cites anonymous sources in reporting that those talks included the possibility of Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman leaving the company, with current chief operating officer Thomas Dooley taking over on an interim basis. Dauman’s departure could put an end to a tangled legal battle playing out across three states over who will control National Amusements, which controls 80% of the voting stock in Viacom and CBS. After Dauman and Viacom board member George Abrams were removed from the board of National Amusements earlier this year, the two executives alleged in court that the 93-year-old Redstone lacks the mental acuity to make business decisions.  Bloomberg