CEO Daily: Thursday, 16th February


Good morning.

This morning we are publishing our annual list of the World’s Most Admired Companies. Once again, Apple topped the list, followed by Amazon. (If you want your company to be admired, it’s apparently good to start its name with an “A”—although Alphabet fell to 6th from 2nd last year.)

The World’s Most Admired list is based on a global survey of executives. This year, we added a question asking which CEOs respondents feel are overrated, and which are underrated. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella took the underrated title, and his company moved up to 9th on the list—tying with Facebook—from 17th last year. Tim Cook won the most mentions for overrated, but that didn’t seem to affect his company’s ranking.

Aside from Microsoft, a few other companies are on a reputational advance. Salesforce jumped to 20th from 34th last year. IBM was at 24, up from 32. And AT&T came in at 37, up from 48. Falling off the list were Wells Fargo, suffering from a sales scandal, and Samsung, burned by exploding batteries. You can read the full list here.

Also this morning, we are releasing Shawn Tully’s cover story for the March magazine on the promise and peril of the Trump economy. Tully, like me, is an optimist; he sees more promise than peril. But when it comes to President Trump, all predictions are perilous. You can read Shawn’s full analysis here.

Apologies for passing on a misleading piece of information yesterday. The $300 million figure I cited was the amount Airbnb has spent of the $3 billion it has raised since it was founded—not its total spending.

More news below.

Top News

Puzder’s Withdrawal Highlights GOP Unease

Andy Puzder dropped out of consideration to become Labor Secretary after losing support from Republican Senators, another indication of the tensions between the White House and a Congress that notionally supports it. Dissent from GOP Senators had earlier this week forced Vice President Mike Pence to use a tiebreaking vote to confirm Betsy Devos as Education Secretary. Puzder had employed and failed to pay taxes for an undocumented housekeeper, and had also struggled with historic claims (later withdrawn) of spousal abuse. Puzder, CEO of a fast-food business before his nomination, had been expected to roll back regulations expanding overtime pay and raising some minimum wages. Elsewhere, Reuters reported that President Trump had offered the now-vacant position of National Security Adviser to Lockheed executive and former vice-admiral Robert Harward. Fortune

Trump Offers Insurers a Band Aid

President Trump’s administration issued its first directives on reforming the Affordable Care Act, in what appeared to be an attempt to reassure health insurance companies that are abandoning the ACA’s hallmark regional exchanges in droves due to heavy losses. This year, one in three state exchanges will only have one insurer. Proposals issued Wednesday would give insurers more freedom to tailor their offerings on exchange-listed plans, and would also cut the window for open enrollment and allow for tighter checks on applicants’ eligibility. They also give states more power to vet health-plan networks. Elsewhere, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, who tried to meet the challenges created by the ACA by merging with rival Humana, said the ACA was in a “death spiral.” Fortune

AIG Hit By Double-Whammy

Shares in AIG slid 9% after a double-whammy of a $3 billion loss in the fourth quarter and news that the hedge fund Paulson & Co had sold nearly half (46%) of its stake. CEO Peter Hancock also lowered the company’s forecasts for the current year, which didn’t help the mood. The loss, caused by a $5.6 billion charge on its commercial insurance business, was AIG’s fourth in six quarters and cast fresh doubt over Hancock’s turnaround strategy. Paulson and fellow activist Carl Icahn had been pushing to break up AIG, while Hancock has been pursuing a more gradual and selective reprofiling. Hancock said a reinsurance deal with Berkshire Hathaway, made last month, would end the bleeding from commercial insurance. FT, metered access

Nestlé CEO Ditches Growth Target

Nestlé’s new CEO Ulf Mark Schneider ditched the company’s long-standing growth target of 5%-6%, saying that 2%-4% for this year was a more realistic forecast given the “volatile and still somewhat deflationary” environment. Its shares fell 2.2%. The Swiss giant had earlier reported that revenue growth fell to only 3.2% in 2016, down from 4.2% in 2015 and its slowest rate in two decades. Schneider, who took over as CEO last June, said he wants to get growth back into the “mid-single digit” range by 2020, but shied away from bolder predictions while the specters of trade war and global financial volatility—a multinational’s worst nightmare—are still on the scene. Nestlé’s big French rival, Danone, had sent a similar message yesterday. Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

Snap IPO Range Reflects Investor Concerns

Snap Inc., the parent of messaging service Snapchat, set the price range for its IPO at $14-$16 a share, valuing the company at between $19.5 billion and $22.2 billion. That’s around 10% below the top end of expectations, but still the highest U.S. tech IPO valuation since Facebook. It's also a remarkable valuation for a company that has no real track record of monetizing its service (where growth is already slowing); that faces increasing me-too competition from rivals such as Instagram; and that is indulging itself in experiments with things like video camera glasses. Fortune

Verizon, Yahoo Agree a Small Price Cut

Verizon will get Yahoo’s legacy businesses for between $250-$350 million less than originally agreed, after negotiating a price cut in the wake of the hacking scandal at Marissa Mayer’s company. Yahoo’s franchise appeared damaged by the hack, which affected millions of users and which is now the focus of investigations by federal investigators and the SEC. Verizon’s investors had hoped for a bigger revision: The company’s shares fell 0.7% in response to the news, while Yahoo’s rose.  Yahoo

Wall Street Is Keeping the Faith in Cisco

Shares in Cisco Systems rose 2% to their highest in nearly 10 years, despite a fifth straight drop in quarterly revenue that once again underlined the challenges facing the fallen networking giant. The drop was smaller than expected, and CEO Chuck Robbins encouraged expectations for more acquisitions such as that of software monitoring startup AppDynamics, irrespective of President Donald Trump’s plans for corporate tax reform. Fortune

Satellites of Love for Modi

India successfully launched 104 satellites in a single mission, setting what its space agency says is a world record of launching the most satellites at one go. Of the 104, 101 are foreign satellites to serve international customers. The South Asian nation is seeking a bigger share of the $300 billion global space industry, so the achievement is not without importance for the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The launch is another high-profile demonstration of India’s ability to apply cutting-edge technology with a low cost base, building on the success of its successful Mars orbital mission three years ago. It contrasts starkly with India’s failure to provide basic services such as sanitation in many areas, but as an advert for the country’s biggest competitive strength, it’s not bad. Fortune

Summaries by Geoffrey Smith;


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