CEO Daily: Monday, 19th December

December 19, 2016, 11:14 AM UTC

Good morning.

The Aspen Institute this morning is releasing a set of recommendations for encouraging long-term economic growth (click here for the report), and combatting what it calls “short-termism.” Top of the list are measures to increase investment in infrastructure, education, and research and development. The report cites OECD numbers showing the U.S. now ranks only 10th in the world in R&D spending, and China is set to surpass the U.S. in basic science research investment by 2019.

Some of the proposals are already on the to-do lists of the President-elect and congressional leaders. For instance, the group emphasizes the need for infrastructure investment of $200 to $260 billion a year. It also calls for a modernization of the corporate tax system to encourage long-term investment by lowering the corporate tax rate and eliminating special-interest tax breaks.

But some of the proposals will certainly raise Republican eyebrows. The Aspen group proposes a Financial Transactions Tax of “a fraction of 1%” to slow down high-speed trading and encourage long-term investment. It also proposes a carbon tax, to create the incentive for reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

The report’s signers include a number of CEOs, including George Barrett of Cardinal Health, Dom Barton of McKinsey, Paul Polman of Unilever, Phebe Novakovic of General Dynamics, Ian Read of Pfizer, Martin Sorrell of WPP, Chip Bergh of Levi Strauss, Greg Case of AON, and Stan Bergman of Henry Schein.

With the new administration arriving in Washington next month, expect a flood of this sort of policy briefs. But this one deserves a look, as a thoughtful focus on a serious problem – the short term focus of American business and economic policy.

More news below.

Top News

At Last, Some Profit-Taking

Hopes that the ‘Trump Bump’ would segue seamlessly into a “Santa Rally” got a rude awakening Monday, as the dollar and stocks retreated across the world, while bond prices roared back. The weekend spat between China and President-elect Donald Trump has taken added a note of caution to early trading, as has a pledge from Beijing to clamp down on asset price bubbles in 2017. On the plus side, Germany’s most closely-watched business confidence index chalked up a four-year high in December, suggesting that Europe’s largest economy will start 2017 with some decent momentum (helped not least by a euro at its weakest against the dollar in 14 years). Reuters

Iran Ties up Airbus Deal, Warns on Boeing One

Iranian officials said they had finalized the terms of a deal with Airbus for 100 airliners to replace flag carrier IranAir’s ageing fleet of aircraft. Deliveries are expected to start in January. The deal adds to one finalized last week with Boeing for 80 jets. The U.S. Treasury has granted export licenses to allow both deals to go ahead (Airbus relies to a large extent on U.S.-made components and systems), and Iran’s deputy transport minister said the country would seek the return of its downpayments “with interest” if the Boeing deal is scuppered by the new administration. Fortune

VW to Chalk up Another Billion in Diesel Costs

Volkswagen may have to add another billion dollars to the costs of settling its diesel emissions scandal. The additional provision reflects a settlement for vehicles with 3-liter engines that weren’t included in the company’s multi-billion settlement with the EPA and California Air Resources Board earlier this year. According to The Wall Street Journal, VW has agreed to buy back around 20,000 older vehicles and fix another 60,000 ‘second-generation’ ones. That will raise the company’s total cost of settlements to date to some $17.5 billion. WSJ, subscription required

BP Gets Its Wallet Out Again

BP was busy over the weekend. First it announced a deal giving the emirate of Abu Dhabi a stake of some 2% in it, in return for a 10% interest in the Emirate’s onshore oilfields, equivalent to some 165,000 barrels a day of low-cost production (France’s Total had acquired a similar interest last year). BP also tied up a deal to buy 62% of what is believed to be a major offshore natural gas prospect off the coast of Senegal and Mauretania,  a project that will require at least $1 billion in investment. Together with a decision earlier in December to approve the $9 billion development of the ‘Mad Dog’ field in the Gulf of Mexico, the moves indicate that the recent OPEC deal to underpin prices has unlocked a flurry of activity to restore BP’s asset base. There is still a tension between such actions and previous estimates that it needs an oil price of $60/barrel to sustain both its output and its dividend at current levels. However, crude futures are rapidly narrowing the gap - they're at a new 17-month high of over $53 a barrel this morning. FT, metered access


Around the Water Cooler

Apple Expected to File EU Appeal Today

Apple is expected to file its appeal against an EU ruling ordering it to repay $14 billion in taxes to Ireland later today. The Irish government has already it doesn’t want the money and isn’t entitled to it, and Apple is likely to join Dublin in accusing the EU Commission of exceeding its authority in its interpretation of state aid rules. Ireland has accused Commissioner Margretha Vestager’s team of having a covert agenda to undermine the low-tax regime that has attracted many multinational companies to base their European HQ in Ireland. Fortune

Samsung May Ask LG for Batteries

Samsung, not entirely surprisingly, has decided it needs a little more choice when it comes to sourcing batteries. According to Korean media reports Monday, the company is in talks with its bitter long-term rival LG Chem over the supply of future smartphone batteries. The ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 batteries came from in-house unit Samsung SDI and Chinese-based Amperex Technology. The pace of product cycles in the smartphone sector, as well as the need not to fall behind developing, for example, automotive batteries, means that Samsung can’t afford to stand on its dignity as it tries to move on from the Note disaster. Fortune

Last Chance Saloon for Monte dei Paschi

Italy’s biggest problem bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, is to launch a share sale today, hoping to sell at least 5 billion euros ($5.2 billion) in new equity. It’s also reopening an offer to junior bondholders to swap their bonds for equity, after an initial offer won acceptances for barely a quarter of the 4 billion euros sought. Unicredit’s radical and well-received capital plans last week raised hopes that the country’s banks can still turn themselves around. However, if MPS’s issue fails, then it is likely to need a state bailout that will either entail big losses for retail bondholders, or an unholy clash with the EU over state aid rules. The ECB refused a request from Rome last week to extend the deadline for bringing MPS’s capitalization up to supervisory standards beyond year-end. WSJ, subscription required

Rogue One Makes a Solid Debut

Disney’s Rogue One: a Star Wars Story took an estimated $155 million at box offices across North America at the weekend, after opening to solid reviews from moviegoers and slightly less enthusiastic ones from critics. It raked in another $135.5 million from international theaters, giving a total take of just $290 million, at the low end of expectations. The move is still to open in the key Chinese market, where it’s expected to be boosted by the casting of Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen. It’s the first stand-alone spin-off to be made by Disney since it bought the Star Wars franchise from Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012. Variety


Summaries by Geoffrey Smith;



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