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CEO Daily: Wednesday, 1st February

February 1, 2017, 11:19 AM UTC

Good morning.

Is Apple looking to make a big media acquisition?

Fortune’s Aaron Pressman says CEO Tim Cook dropped three hints during his earnings call yesterday that that may be the case.

First, Cook said Apple plans to double the $24 billion annual revenue in its services unit, which includes its media sales, within four years. Could be done organically, but not easily.

Second, Cook was asked what the company might do if the tax on repatriating the $232 billion it holds overseas is cut. Apple is constantly reviewing acquisitions, Cook said, and “there’s not a size that we would not do.”

Finally, Cook mentioned that Apple has only stuck its “toe in the water” of producing original content – raising the possibility he might be thinking about diving in. “We’re learning a lot about the original content business, and thinking about ways that we could play in that.”

Keep an eye on this space. More news below.

Alan Murray

Top News

Bitter Dems Wrestle With Gorsuch Quandary

President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia. The Democratic Party, still bitter at the GOP’s refusal even to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland last year, signaled its intention to block the appointment. Its Congressional leadership boycotted the announcement in the White House and criticized Gorsuch personally after the news. A filibuster may satisfy wounded Democrat pride, but could also cause the GOP majority in Congress to change the rules to allow the nomination to pass with a simple majority. It could also anger voters in states won by Trump in November where Democrat Senators face re-election next year. Time

Team Trump Jawbones the Dollar Down

President Trump and his team ratcheted up tensions in the foreign exchange market with accusations of skullduggery against both Germany and Japan. Trump’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro accused Germany of “exploiting” a “grossly undervalued” euro, while Trump accused of “playing the devaluation game” while “we stand there like dummies.” The dollar fell sharply, and has now lost over 4% since the jawboning started. To a degree, this is about some more speculative players being shaken out of one of the most crowded trades in world markets. It’s also a relief to those U.S. companies, like Apple, that get much of their revenue abroad. But the willingness of the new administration to talk the dollar down aggressively is, like much else, a sharp departure from previous U.S. policy, and one of several uncomfortable new realities for financial markets. Verbally-created volatility will also complicate the decision-making of the Federal Reserve, whose policy-making committee concludes its two-day meeting today. No change in interest rates is expected. Fortune

Under Armour Falls From Grace

Shares in Under Armour fell an eye-watering 23% after the athletic gear maker reported a poor holiday quarter and predicted 2017 revenue growth of only 11%-12%, instead of the 20% expected by Wall Street. It said CFO Chip Molloy will leave the company “for personal reasons.” Under Armour has been harder hit than its more globally-present rivals Adidas and Nike by a spate of bankruptcies (Sports Authority, City Sports, etc.) and store closures in the traditional U.S. retail sector. At the same time, the company debuted the first output from its new manufacturing center in Baltimore, which it hopes will improve supply chain management. Fortune

Exxon Gets Real About Natural Gas Prices

ExxonMobil wrote down the value of its U.S. shale gas assets by over $2 billion, a landmark move that led to its posting its lowest annual profit in 20 years. Exxon had been alone among oil majors in not writing down the value of its reserves in the wake of the 2014 oil price crash and the flooding of the U.S. natural gas market with cheap shale gas. Former CEO Rex Tillerson had used a policy of no writedowns to impose discipline on its executives, but the policy has come under pressure due to a separate investigation by the SEC into Exxon’s attitude to Climate Change-related risks. U.S. natural gas prices are 40% below their level in 2010, when Exxon bought shale producer XTO. WSJ, subscription required


Around the Water Cooler

Facebook Aims for the TV Market

Facebook is developing a new app for television set-top boxes, according to The Wall Street Journal’s sources. The move would broaden the distribution possibilities for its live-streaming and other video-related products, and also create a foothold for an assault on the TV advertising market. Facebook is facing saturation problems in getting revenue from ads on its core social media network, problems that many of the world's other media companies would love to have. Fortune

Another Day, Another Billion

Volkswagen agreed to pay at least $1.26 billion to fix or buy back and compensate of owners of 3-liter diesel cars – although the final cost of the buyback could rise to $4 billion if regulators don’t approve the technical fixes it proposes. Court documents also show that Robert Bosch GmbH, the German components giant that created the software that VW turned into ‘defeat devices’, will contribute $327 million to a compensation fund for U.S. drivers affected by the scandal. Fortune

H&M Succumbs to Gravity

Even the wildly popular fast-fashion chains can't escape retail gravity. Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz said it will drop its goal of opening 10% to 15% more stores each year and instead turned its focus to getting more revenue from existing stores, a tacit recognition that its store fleet is nearing the saturation point in many markets. The move follows similar ones last year by two of its biggest rivals in fast-fashion, Zara and Uniqlo. The company’s shares, which have fallen by a third in the last two years, rose over 5% in response. Fortune

EU Ranks Trump Alongside IS, Russia as a Risk

The European Union’s anxiety over transatlantic relations in the Trump era hit new levels, with EU Council President Donald Tusk (who coordinates the meetings of national government heads) ranking the new administration alongside Russia, China and radical Islam as a risk to the troubled Union. Tusk said the new administration is “seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy.” Trump’s pick as ambassador to the EU last week compared it to the USSR, calling it a union “ripe for taming." Trump has been openly supportive of Brexit (a factor that will complicate the U.K.’s exit talks with the EU) and predicted a further unraveling of the bloc in January. Fortune

Summaries by Geoffrey Smith;