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Gauging Trump’s Numerous Promises

January 12, 2017, 4:03 PM UTC

Business leaders now realize, if they didn’t already, that they face an unusual problem: deciding how seriously to take what Donald Trump says. The latest evidence came at yesterday’s news conference, when he said pharmaceutical companies are “getting away with murder.” Recall that pharma stocks surged immediately after the election on the assumption that Hillary Clinton had been the anti-drug-company candidate; she had accused the industry of “price gouging” during the campaign, and drug stocks plunged. But now Trump sounds more extreme than Clinton, and those stocks plunged again yesterday. And yet – what, if anything, will he actually do?

The question comes up time and again. The latest economic forecast from Goldman Sachs’s chief economist simply assumes that Trump will not follow through on his protectionist campaign promises; most other major banks assume the same. Yet what if he does? Those promises were central to the success of his campaign, after all. At one point he said he would entirely eliminate the federal debt – not the annual budget deficit, but the whole $13.6-trillion of debt held by the public – in eight years while also cutting taxes and increasing the military budget. It appears absolutely no one believes he could do it or will even try. But what if he does try?

Business leaders, investors, and others must make these judgments. If you’re in the business of hospitality, construction, or agriculture, you depend on immigrants, many of whom are undocumented. Will Trump order mass deportations immediately upon taking office, as he has said? During the campaign he said of illegal immigrants who had been arrested (not necessarily charged or convicted), “Day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone.” Did he mean it? In a post-election video outlining his priorities for his first hundred days, he didn’t even mention it, suggesting not. But the inauguration is still eight days away; he could change his mind.

Also at his news conference, Trump reiterated that construction of a wall on the Mexican border would begin very soon after inauguration and “Mexico will pay for the wall.” Not up front; the cost “will be reimbursed,” he said. Within hours, Mexican President Peña Nieto said that “of course” Mexico will not pay for any wall. In addition, Trump needs congressional authorization to begin construction, and it’s far from clear he could get it. Yet his statement was ironclad and unhedged. So what do you believe?

When President George H.W. Bush said “Read my lips – no new taxes” and then raised taxes, it was political death. People took his statements seriously. If Trump made a similar pledge, how much weight would you give it?

Expressed in financial terms, business leaders now have a new calculation to perform every day: how much of a discount to apply to Trump’s words.

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What We're Reading Today

Ethics chief denounces Trump's plan to avoid conflicts of interest
President-elect Trump said he would move his assets into a trust to be managed by his sons. Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub said that plan is insufficient. Separating himself from management of his businesses is "meaningless" said Shaub, since Trump would have to do that in any case. He called for Trump to place his assets in a blind trust. Washington Post

Senate takes first major step toward Obamacare repeal
Last night and early this morning the Senate passed a series of measures that lay the groundwork for repealing the Affordable Care Act. In protest, Democrats broke with procedural rules and dedicated their 'no' votes to those who would be hurt by repeal. Trump has said he plans to present a bill to replace ACA but has yet to say when. NBC News

Six Volkswagen execs indicted
As Matthias Müller's company agreed to a $4.3-billion settlement of federal criminal and civil charges yesterday, six current and former VW executives were indicted for their roles in the emissions cheating scandal. Heinz-Jakob Neusser, VW Brand's former head of development, plus Jens Hadler and Richard Dorenkamp, former heads of engine development, were among those indicted. One exec, Oliver Schmidt, was arrested last weekend in Florida, but the others remain in Germany. Fortune

Apple's next move: Hollywood
Following in the steps of Netflix and Amazon, Tim Cook's company plans to develop original content, including television shows and movies, which would be available to subscribers of Apple's $10-a-month music service. WSJ

Building Better Leaders

Developing a CEO exchange
Travis York, CEO of marketing firm GYK Antler, has traded jobs with four other CEOs for a day. He says it gives him insight into other leadership styles and industries. Fast Company

To keep customers wanting more...
...develop a hook model. Serial entrepreneur and behavioral economist Nir Eyal says it involves a trigger, an action, and rewards that grow with continuing investment. Instagram is a great example.  Fortune

Worst money mistakes by entrepreneurs
One example: Shopify CFO Russ Jones says watch out for the cost of bringing in outside talent. It's cheaper to develop internal talent that fits with the organization's culture, he says. Entrepreneur

Trump's Team

Tillerson's potential tax problem
Secretary of State nominee and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has gone beyond legal requirements in cutting his financial ties to Exxon. But the question of when he will have to pay the taxes on his divested shares and other compensation could still prove troublesome; mainstream tax experts disagree on what the law requires. If Tillerson has to defend himself against the IRS, then ExxonMobil lawyers would likely need to participate, raising conflict of interest issues. Fortune

Mattis cancels hearing
Democrats are angry over Defense Secretary nominee Ret. Gen. James Mattis's decision to cancel an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee. In order to serve in the administration, a former military official must be retired for at least seven years, but Mattis retired three years ago. Republicans will seek to pass a law letting Mattis serve, but Democrats say they will oppose it if they don't hear from Mattis first. CNN

Peter Thiel talks on Trump
Far from worrying that Donald Trump will "change everything way too much," Silicon Valley billionaire Thiel worries he's "going to change everything way too little." The lone voice of support for Trump in the tech community during the campaign says he believes Silicon Valley will change its mind about the president. NYT

Up or Out

Abigail Klem will take over Ivanka Trump's fashion line after her father becomes president.  Fortune

Walmart CIO Karenann Terrell has resigned.  WSJ

Fortune Reads and Videos

Tech execs present Trump...
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Many Republicans looking to slow down the Obamacare repeal... in states that adopted the optional Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Funding would be rolled back if the law is repealed. Fortune 

You'll no longer hear warnings about Galaxy Note 7s...
...before boarding planes. The FAA ended the requirement, but the phones are still not allowed. Fortune

Conal International Trading recalls boots...
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Happy Birthday

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos turns 53 today.  Biography

Produced by Ryan Derousseau