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CEO Daily: Monday, 23rd January

Good morning,

I wrote on Friday that U.S. CEOs in Davos were strikingly optimistic about prospects for the upcoming Trump administration. They downplayed his anti-trade and anti-immigration sentiments, and emphasized the potential for reducing corporate taxes and regulation.

But that was before the speech. I’m usually a sucker for inaugural addresses, which are filled with hope and promise. I have been moved by every one I’ve witnessed since 1976. One of my favorites was George W. Bush’s first inaugural address, which you can read here.

But this was different. Leaving aside the absence of humility, poetry and generosity towards his predecessors, the speech presented a zero-sum view of the global economy. “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry” and have “made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.” In the new administration, “we will bring back our jobs” by following “two simple rules: we will buy American and hire American.”

If this means that President Trump plans to repatriate the earnings of U.S. companies now locked overseas by high taxes, and to continue to lean on companies to invest more in the U.S., then the CEOs optimism may well be justified. But if he leads the world into a new era of global protectionism, then the effects on U.S. economic growth will be dire.

The CEO of one of the nation’s largest companies advised me last week to watch what the President does, and ignore what he tweets. That admonition now has to be extended to cover his inaugural address, too.

More news below.

Alan Murray

Top News

The Point of No (Tax) Return

President Donald Trump has changed his mind and will not release his tax returns, senior advisor Kellyanne Conway said Sunday. Trump had said during the campaign that he would release them once the IRS finished its audits, breaking a tradition of pre-election disclosure by candidates that went back over 40 years. Conway argued that “people didn’t care” and were more focused on what their tax returns would look like over the next four years. A CNN poll in October found that 73% of registered voters thought they should be released. Elsewhere, the New York Times reported that a group of law scholars and former White House ethics lawyers will file suit against the President today for allowing his businesses to receive payments from foreign government officials. Trump has said any profits from such payments will go to the U.S. Treasury. Fortune

Gou Forth and Manufacture 

Foxconn founder Terry Gou outlined plans to make large display panels in the U.S., in what could be the biggest example yet of globalization going into reverse under pressure from the new administration. Gou said the project could take $7 billion in investment and create between 30,000 and 50,000 jobs. Foxconn, which is based in Taiwan and manufactures largely in mainland China is acutely vulnerable to trade frictions between China and the U.S., and local manufacturing will mitigate some of that risk. At the same time, the move looks like an effort to breathe life into TV maker Sharp, which Foxconn bought last year. One caveat is Gou’s reputation for making big promises that often don’t materialize. Fortune

De-Globalizing the Renminbi

It’s Monday, so there’s another set of new capital controls out of China to tell you about. Regulators have imposed new requirements on mainland banks restricting the amount of renminbi they can export, the idea being to stop capital outflows and relieve pressure on the currency. Shanghai banks, which could previously remit RMB160 to clients abroad for every RMB100 they brought in, may now only export RMB100 (Beijing is thus aiming at cutting net outflows to zero). Other recent illustrations of the ongoing campaign to clamp down on undesirable financial activity include a cap on transfer fees paid to foreign soccer clubs and a surprisingly stiff five-year jail term given to Xu Xiang, one of the country’s most prominent investors, for stock market manipulation. FT, metered access

Hugo Barra Is Leaving Xiaomi

Globalization can go into reverse on a personal level too. Hugo Barra, the Google Android veteran who was tasked in 2013 with taking smartphone unicorn Xiaomi global, said in a Facebook post he is leaving the Chinese company and returning to Silicon Valley. Barra cited health and homesickness for his move. Xiaomi has made considerable inroads into the Indian market under Barra, but has hardly dented western markets that take a tougher line on intellectual property issues. In addition, the company has dropped out of the top five smartphone makers in its home market. Newcomers Oppo and Vivo have undercut it as it tried to move upmarket. The Brazilian will be succeeded by the homegrown Xiang Wang, which suggests at first glance that Xiaomi is going to focus first and foremost on stopping the rot at home. Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

Samsung S7 Inquest Gives its Verdict

Samsung confirmed that irregularly-sized batteries were the sole cause of the $5 billion spontaneous combustion disaster with its S7 Galaxy Note smartphones. The company said that it originally indentified ill-fitting batteries made by its own subsidiary SDI as the problem, but failed to appreciate that other batteries supplied by an outside partner, Amperex, also had serious flaws including missing insulation tape and sharp edge protrusions. The company has less than four months to overcome the technical and reputational issues raised by the fiasco as it prepares to launch the next iteration S8. Fortune

Shale Drillers Expand Into OPEC-Created Vacuum

Energy independence was at the heart of the first policy declaration out of Donald Trump’s White House, but the oil and gas industry was already way ahead of him. The number of active drilling rigs in the U.S. rose at its fastest pace in nearly four years last week, with producers in Texas and Oklahoma racing to fill the gap left by supply cuts coordinated by OPEC, Russia and others. Crude futures are down 1.5% from Friday’s close this morning on the prospect that U.S. output gains could hasten the end of output restraint by OPEC. The International Energy Agency expects the shale sector to restore more than half of its 300,000 barrel-a-day shrinkage in output last year due to OPEC’s price war. Reuters

Another Glitch Grounds United

IT problems brought United Airlines’ domestic services to a standstill for the second time in four months Sunday evening, the latest in an increasingly frequent spate of tech-related outages among major airlines. The ‘ground halt’ lasted around one hour and affected only United flights, rather than the whole United Continental network – a markedly less severe outage than in October. That won’t help the cumulative effect on the traveling public’s consciousness, though. Fortune

The Deflater’s Revenge

Superbowl LI (that’s 51, for the non-Latin speakers) will be between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, both of whom won their respective championships with ease in one-sided games last night. That gives Deflategate protagonist Tom Brady a chance to complete his revenge on those that suspended him. The subplot will do the ratings no harm, but may come too late to save the season for the NFL’s broadcasting partners. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, second only to Brady in this season’s stats (according to DVOA’s efficiency ratings), is the man standing between Brady and his vengeance. Sports Illustrated

Summaries by Geoffrey Smith;