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CEO Daily: Wednesday 24th August

Good morning.

I’m traveling this morning and need to keep this note short, but call your attention to the recent performance of two Asian companies that have become the darlings of tech investors – Tencent Holdings and Samsung Electronics. Both have been on a tear recently, and are vying for the honor of Asia’s most valuable company. Tencent, which runs China’s popular WeChat service as well as some of China’s most popular online gaming operations, is now valued at $249 billion, while smartphone maker Samsung is valued at $239 billion. Over the last year, Samsung shares have risen 50%.

In the age of too much money chasing too few investment opportunities, such swings can quickly be undone. But it’s still interesting how these two have taken over the momentum from the likes of Apple and Alibaba.

More news below, including on the fatal earthquake that struck Italy overnight.

Alan Murray

Top News

Dozens Dead in Italian Earthquake

At least 37 people have been killed and hundreds more injured by an earthquake in Italy that registered 6.2 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was around 85 miles north-east of Rome, near the city of Norcia. The quake struck in the early hours of the morning and leveled buildings in the regions of Lazio, Umbria and Marche, killing people as they slept. It’s the third fatal earthquake in Italy in the last seven years, after the quakes in Aquila in 2009 and Modena in 2012. It comes at a time when the local population is swollen with vacationers. Reuters

• Best Buy Bounces Back

Shares in Best Buy surged 16% to a 15-month high after it reported a dramatic 24% jump in online sales, reassuring investors about its ability to compete with the likes of Amazon. The company is reaping the benefits of closing loss-making stores and investing heavily in its online presence over the last two years. It also notched a 21% rise in net profit to $198 million and raised its revenue guidance marginally for the rest of the year, and now expects 2016 to break a six-year streak of falling revenues. Health and wearable items (of which, more below), home theater systems and other major appliances all boosted sales, echoing a similar report from Home Depot, while sales of gaming products and mobile phones declined. Fortune

Miners’ Rocky Road Back to Stability

The pain isn’t over yet for the world’s big mining groups as they work through a process of retrenchment after their decade-long investment binge. Glencore’s shares fell over 4% Wednesday after it announced a net loss of bigger-than-expected 66% drop in net profit for the first half. The company announced further asset disposals overnight to underline how it’s whittling down its debt mountain, and it also held out the prospect of resuming dividend payments by the end of the year, but it had to book a $400 million charge after being caught out by a rally in coal prices. That’s particularly bitter for a company that is increasingly dependent on trading as it sells down its portfolio of hard assets. Glencore reckons it has strong free cash flow at current commodity levels but warned that prices remain volatile. Reuters

Tim Cook Will Hold a Fundraiser for Clinton

Apple CEO Tim Cook will host a fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton next month. Cook has been bipartisan in his fundraising activities so far this year–he held a fundraiser for House Speaker Paul Ryan in June.  But due to discomfort with Trump, Apple declined to donate money or equipment to back the Republican convention in Cleveland, although it had provided such support in the past. Trump called for a boycott of Apple products earlier this year after the company declined to provide the FBI with security-weakened software to help crack an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.  Fortune


Trump Lavishes Campaign Funds on Own Companies 

Cynics who argue that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is just a publicity stunt to further his business got more ammunition after it emerged that Trump Tower, where the GOP nominee’s campaign team is based, has been receiving nearly 500% more in rent since Trump and the RNC announced a joint fundraising deal in May. Prior to that, Trump had said his campaign was “self-funding”, but Trump’s own contributions are now only a fraction of the whole. Trump told The Huffington Post that he had moved campaign HQ to a larger space (adding that he still contributes $2 million a month to the campaign). But it employed 25 fewer people in July than it did in March. It also emerged that the campaign paid a Trump company $495,000 in July for the use of his Boeing 757 to transport the nominee across the country, while three other Trump properties had received over $190,000 in payments for hosting various campaign-related events.  Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

Big Banks Join Forces on Blockchain

Four of the world’s biggest banks have teamed up to create a new digital currency that they hope will become the industry standard for clearing and settling transactions over blockchain. BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, UBS and Santander aim to launch the project commercially by 2018, according to the Financial Times. Executives see it has having a big role to play in making ‘back offices’ more efficient. Clearing and settling strades costs banks worldwide between $65 billion and $80 billion a year, according to consultants Oliver Wyman. This won’t be the only such project in the works: Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, to name but two, are also working on similar ideas. FT, metered access

“A Playboy Mansion-like Cult”

The sexual harassment scandal at Fox News may be widening. Another former host, Andrea Tantaros, has reportedly filed suit against top executives at the network, including Bill O’Reilly and Bill Shine, one of the two men who replaced the now-departed CEO Roger Ailes. Tantaros’ suit accuses Fox of operating “like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny,” according to the New York Times. It said that Fox considered the suit as an effort to gain leverage in a contract dispute over a book that Tantaros published without first seeking the network’s approval. Fox didn’t comment.   Fortune

Zika Spreads Across Florida

The Zika virus continues to spread across Florida. State officials Tuesday announced the first case of Zika transmitted by mosquitoes in Pinellas County, located some 265 miles from Miami, where the first locally transmitted U.S. cases were reported. The news came four days after federal health officials warned pregnant women against traveling to Miami Beach due to the virus being active there. Pinellas County is home to St. Petersburg, Clearwater and a number of Gulf Coast beaches that are popular tourist destinations. Steve Huard, acting spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, said the case involves a woman without a significant travel history, indicating the virus was contracted locally. Scott said the health department and Pinellas County Mosquito Control have begun “aggressive spraying and mosquito abatement efforts.” He added that any pregnant woman who wants a free Zika test or a Zika prevention kit should contact the health department.  Fortune

Fitbit Wins The Latest Round Vs Jawbone

An International Trade Commission judge threw out Jawbone’s suit to stop imports of wearable fitness tracking devices made by its rival Fitbit. The ruling means Jawbone comes away with nothing from a complaint it filed with the trade agency in July 2015, accusing Fitbit of infringing six patents and poaching employees who took with them confidential data about Jawbone’s business, such as plans, supply chains and technical details. Two of the patents were withdrawn, however, and four others were invalidated by the judge, before a May trial that was limited to the trade secrets claims. It’s another big blow to Jawbone, which is losing market share after arriving on the scene to enormous hype a couple of years ago. Other litigation by Jawbone against Fitbit in California is still pending. Fortune