It’s no surprise Donald Trump didn’t send an official representative to Davos this year (although adviser Anthony Scaramucci is here on an “unofficial” basis, and hosting his annual wine party.) The World Economic Forum is a church built on the theology of globalization, which Trump explicitly rejected during his campaign. And it’s not just Trump; as Swiss President Doris Leuthard told the forum this morning, “nationalism and protectionism are gaining the upper hand” around the world.
For China, that’s an opportunity. President Xi Jinping this morning became the first Chinese head of state to visit Davos, and made clear he’s ready to fill the void, leading the defense of globalization.
“Some people blame globalization for the chaos in our world,” he said, addressing Trump without ever mentioning his name. “That’s not the case… Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air… No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.”
At a dinner last night hosted by McKinsey, a group of non-U.S. executives discussed whether globalization is really in retreat, or whether leadership is simply passing to China. That may raise eyebrows, given China’s history of nationalist economic policies and its failure to protect intellectual property rights. But it’s clear President Xi intends to make the most of the opening he’s been given on the global stage.
An interesting data point came yesterday from PwC’s survey of global CEOs. Asked which country, other than their own, they are most eager to invest in, they chose the U.S. over China. That’s a reversal from six years ago, when they overwhelming chose China.
More news below.
• BAT Clinches Reynolds Deal
British American Tobacco has agreed to buy the 57.8% of Reynolds American that it doesn’t already own for $49.4 billion, creating the world’s biggest tobacco company by sales. The offer represents a 5% increase from BAT’s unsuccessful first try in October, and a slightly bigger increase in the cash component of the deal, which is now $24.4 billion. As with global growth more broadly, the deal refocuses BAT on developed markets, especially the U.S., and reduces its relative exposure to emerging ones. BAT said it expects few antitrust issues, given the lack of geographical overlap between the two. Fortune
• Trump Talks the Dollar Down
Has Donald Trump called the top of the dollar rally? In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the President-elect said of China “our companies can’t compete with them now because our currency is strong and it’s killing us.” The dollar fell by an average 0.6% against major western currencies and by 0.7% against the renminbi. For now, that’s just a minor correction that still leaves the greenback close to 13-year highs. With growth and interest rate dynamics moving in the U.S.’s favor, it will take much more than jawboning to turn the dollar round. That said, a trade war and geopolitical crisis over the future of Taiwan (neither of which can be ruled out on the basis of Trump’s other comments in the interview) might be enough to do the job. WSJ, subscription required
• Showtime for Theresa
A few minutes ago, Prime Minister Theresa May started a keynote speech announcing that the U.K. won’t try to keep its membership of the EU’s Single Market. Without any corrective measures, that could badly affect key sectors such as financial services, autos and food and drink, many of them dominated by foreign companies with no emotional reason to keep their investments in Britain. The question is now – what measures can be negotiated to stop them leaving? Lobby groups are pressing for a lengthy transitional stage in the first instance. The rest will depend to a large extent on what price the EU wants to put on keeping its massive trade surplus with the U.K., and on the willingness of the U.S. to deliver the quick trade deal that Donald Trump promised in his weekend interviews. Such a deal would not only be valuable in itself, but would send a powerful signal to the rest of the world that there was no sense in punishing Britain for its decision. Fortune
• More Carmakers Talk up Their U.S. Investment Plans
Hyundai and General Motors became the latest carmakers to talk up their investment plans for the U.S. in the hope of avoiding the wrath of President-elect Donald Trump. Korea’s Hyundai said it planned to increase its investment in the U.S. by 50% to $3.1 billion over the next five years, in an effort to raise its relatively low share of locally-produced output. Hyundai and its strategic partner Kia both have a plant in Mexico. Meanwhile, GM is set to announce another $1 billion investment in its U.S. plants, but according to media reports, the investments have been planned for some time. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
• No Votes for Snap’s New Shareholders
The owners of Snapchat are happy to have outside investors along for the ride, as long as they keep their mouth shut. According to The Wall Street Journal’s sources, Snap Inc.’s planned IPO, which is set to be one of the events of the year on Wall Street, will offer only non-voting shares, keeping control of the company concentrated in the hands of founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy. As with Facebook and other tech companies that have introduced multiple share categories to fund their expansion, the structure makes Snap shares a bet on the founders personally as much as on the product. At the same time, it’s an expression of confidence from the owners, accepting the trade-off of what is likely to be a lower valuation, given that nonvoting shares typically sell at a discount. WSJ, subscription required
• Saudi Arabia Goes Green
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the Desert Kingdom would launch a program to develop renewable energy in the next few weeks that will involve between $30 billion and $50 billion in investment. The kingdom’s abundant solar resources, in particular, offer it the chance to free up for export oil and gas that is currently used domestically in the power and water desalination sectors. The country’s power demand is currently rising by around 8% a year. Saudi wants renewables to supply at least 4% of energy demand by 2020. Fortune
• Rolls Royce Settles Bribery Claims
Shares in aero engine maker Rolls Royce rose 6% after the company said it would pay 671 million pounds ($812 million) to settle long-running bribery claims relating to exports to China, Indonesia and elsewhere. The deal involves deferred prosecution agreements with regulators in the U.S., U.K. and Brazil. It’s the biggest ever deal of its kind in the U.K., where the Serious Fraud Office has struggled repeatedly to make corporate crime accusations stick. Rolls Royce also said in a trading update that it had a strong end to the year, raising its expectations for both profit and cash flow. Fortune
• Shale M&A Steps up a Gear
Consolidation in the shale sector continues apace. Noble Energy agreed to buy Clayton Williams Energy for $2.7 billion yesterday, greatly strengthening its position in the Permian basin in West Texas and New Mexico, one of the shale regions that has proved most resilient to the drop in crude prices since 2014. Noble also gets a number of pipelines that will carry its oil to refineries and storage tanks. Clayton Williams hauled itself back from the verge of bankruptcy last year by shedding most of its assets outside the Permian basin. The deal follows less than a week after Sanchez Energy and Blackstone Group. bought Anadarko’s South Texas acreage for $2.3 billion. Reuters
Summaries by Geoffrey Smith Geoffrey.email@example.com;