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CEO Daily: Wednesday, 1st March

Good morning.

I’m on a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, and was unable to watch President Trump’s speech to Congress. But by press accounts, it was a winner. The New York Times said he “sounded as presidential as he ever has since taking office.” The Washington Post called it “the best ‘big’ speech he has given as president” and possibly “the best speech Trump has given since he entered politics way back in June 2015.” The Wall Street Journal said it was “an inclusive, generous, and bipartisan message,” free of the usual “bombast”—if not the usual exaggeration.

To win such praise from a press he recently dubbed “the enemy of the American people” is no small thing—and the best sign yet that the Trump administration may be settling into some version of regular order.

The President nodded to an honor roll of companies that have recently pledged to “invest billions of dollars” and create “tens of thousands of jobs” in the U.S.: Ford, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Lockheed, Intel, Walmart.

And he foreshadowed an ambitious economic agenda, that included:

  • A “historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone.”
  • “Massive tax relief for the American worker.”
  • A “merit-based immigration system” that will replace the “current system of lower-skilled immigration.”
  • A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, financed through “both public and private capital.”
  • A health care bill that, while repealing ‘Obamacare,’ keeps coverage for pre-existing conditions, provides tax credits and health savings accounts to help people purchase insurance, and gives states “resources and flexibility” to provide expanded Medicaid coverage.
  • New measures to make “childcare accessible and affordable,” to “ensure new parents have paid family leave,” to “invest in women’s health,” to promote “clean air and clear water,” and to “rebuild our military.”

No details on how to pay for this largesse, although the President did skirt close to an endorsement of protective tariffs, quoting Lincoln as his precedent.

You can read the full speech here. More news below.

Alan Murray

Top News

Fed Officials Turn Hawkish

With President Donald Trump in more restrained mode before Congress, financial markets took their cue from three Federal Reserve officials Tuesday who all dropped hints of an interest rate hike as early as March. NY Fed president William Dudley told CNN the case for hiking “has become a lot more compelling,” while San Francisco and Philadelphia Fed presidents John Williams and Patrick Harker struck similar notes. The dollar strengthened against the yen, euro and pound, albeit without breaking out of its recent ranges. Treasury bond yields hit a one-week high. Reuters

Target Tumbles on Expensive Makeover

Shares in Target tumbled 12%—their worst one-day performance in 18 years—after it slashed its profit forecast for the year to a range around $4 a share, 20% below Wall Street consensus. The company will throw $7 billion over the next three years at a makeover of up to 600 “old” and “tired” stores (the words come from CEO Brian Cornell). The $7 billion also includes increased investment in e-commerce, which currently accounts for only 5% of sales (compared with an average of 10% for the sector). Cornell also said Target will aggressively expand its network of urban, smaller format stores. Fortune

Turbulence in Amazon’s Cloud

Amazon’s Cloud hosting business AWS suffered its worst outage in over a year. The five-hour outage hit a broad range of (largely smaller) clients who have outsourced the safeguarding of their online operations (including, ironically enough, the website It also appears to have affected Amazon’s own Alexa service, according to The Verge, which may have contributed to a flurry of connected device-related outages reported on Twitter. The affected US-East-1 data center in Virginia was also the source of the last major outage in September 2015. Amazon subsequently reported a full recovery, but the incident is a stark reminder that its dominance in Cloud hosting, which has been responsible for much of the share price gains of the last two years, is not guaranteed. Fortune

Hershey Slims Down to Survive Alone

Hershey said it would cut its global workforce by 15%, most of the cuts hitting its lower-paid workers outside the U.S.. The move is part of its “Margin for Growth” project, its strategy for a standalone future after rejecting an approach from Mondelez last August. Hershey will take an initial charge of $375-$425 million, but hopes to realize annual savings of up to $175 million by 2019. The plan is consistent with the theme of Big Food slimming down as consumers develop healthier eating patterns, a theme given added spice by the prowling of predators like the 3G-led Kraft Heinz. Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

Snap to Price IPO, Lock in New Investors

Snapchat parent Snap Inc. is set to price its IPO today, with reports suggesting that there is enough demand for it to price at between $17-$18, above the initially targeted range of $14-$16 a share. The company said Tuesday it expects investors buying up to a quarter of the shares in the deal to be locked in for a year, an unusually long lock-in that looks like a sign of confidence in the deal on the buy side. Eight of the 10 biggest technology IPOs have fallen by between 25% and 71% in their first 12 months on the public market, according to Reuters. Fortune

Intel Achieves Equality

Intel announced that it has achieved 100% pay equality for both women and underrepresented minorities in an annual report on diversity and inclusion. Danielle Brown, Intel’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, wrote that the achievement was a “year-end goal” and that promotion parity for both groups had also been attained as well. Intel defines underrepresented minorities as African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. The chipmaker also said that 45% of its new hires were from ‘diverse’ backgrounds. The news is a welcome counterpoint to continual anecdotes from the tech sector that tell a different story. The recent travails at Uber encouraged a female engineer suing Tesla over a culture of “pervasive harassment” to go public with her story yesterday. Fortune

Unilever’s Polman Gets a 20% Pay Cut

Unilever CEO Paul Polman took a 20% pay cut last year, after a revamp of the group’s executive pay structure in November that aimed to expand share ownership among managers. Polman has a base salary of just over 1 million pounds, which itself was worth 15% less thanks to the Brexit effect on forex markets. His total compensation fell to 8.4 million euros, from 10.4 million in 2015, a relatively modest figure that left him outside to the top 30 CEO earners of London-listed companies last year. FT, metered access

A Pretty Penny for Their Thoughts

Penguin Random House won an auction to publish the memoirs of Barack and Michelle Obama with a bid reported to be around $65 million. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed but it is believed that the Obamas will contribute one book each. The two intend to donate a “significant portion” of their author proceeds to charity, according to the publisher. For comparison, the post-White House book deals landed by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush generated their authors $15 million and $10 million, respectively. According to the Financial Times, PRH outbid News Corp’s Harper Collins and CBS’s Simon & Schuster in the auction.  Fortune

Summaries by Geoffrey Smith;