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CEO Daily: Thursday, 16th March

Good morning.

President Trump submits his budget plan to Congress today, but details are in the press this morning. The plan, which just covers so-called “discretionary” spending—not the big entitlement programs—calls for deep cuts in most domestic programs and foreign aid in order to pay for big increases in defense spending and homeland security. You can read more details here.

Meanwhile, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison yesterday engaged in Trump-like bravado, telling analysts in a phone call that his company has “a huge technology lead” over the Cloud businesses of Amazon and Microsoft. That’s despite the fact that both still have much larger Cloud businesses than Oracle, in terms of revenue.

I spent time yesterday afternoon with Charles Phillips, who left Oracle in 2010 to run Infor, a rapidly growing enterprise software business that closed a deal raising $2.4 billion from Koch Industries last month, valuing the company at $10 billion. Infor earlier this week also announced a deal with another enterprise software startup, Marketo, to combine their sales and marketing software in an effort to take on incumbents Oracle and Salesforce. Infor is based in Manhattan and develops software for specific industries.

What is striking about Infor headquarters is that it isn’t populated with the lawyers, accountants or other corporate suits, but rather with creative designers. Phillips has separated the user interface team from the rest of his software developers and put them into an agency-like organization called “Hook and Loop” which is housed at headquarters and works with customers in the office “garage” to envision creative new uses of digital technology for business. A sign hanging on the wall reads: “Technology is a science, but getting people used to it was an art.” It’s not hard to see why Charles Koch was attracted to the Infor approach. Fortune’s Ellen McGirt recently interviewed Charles Phillips about his interesting life and leadership journey, which is worth watching here.

Also, some news at Fortune yesterday. Clifton Leaf is taking over as editor-in-chief, and Adam Lashinsky will become executive editor. I’ll serve as president of Fortune, in addition to my role as chief content officer of Time Inc. And I will continue to write this newsletter, so please keep reading!

News below.

Alan Murray

Top News

Markets Surge After Fed’s ‘Dovish’ Hike

Bond and stock markets surged, while the dollar retreated, after the Federal Reserve left unchanged its central scenario of three interest rate rises this year (i.e., two more after yesterday’s 0.25% hike). Chairwoman Janet Yellen said the Fed was responding to an “obvious and notable” upward shift in sentiment, but said the move wasn’t intended to pre-empt a loosening of fiscal policy under the new administration. With official rates still below even the core rate of inflation, the Fed arguably remains at risk of getting behind the curve if the economy strengthens further. Elsewhere, China also raised interest rates to keep the yuan steady in response. Fortune

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked President Trump’s revised travel ban, saying it discriminated on the basis of nationality and religion, damaged the state’s tourism industry and restricted the ability to hire. The White House had argued on Tuesday that the new draft addressed the Federal Appeals Court’ concerns about the initial one, and Trump immediately vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court. One interesting difference is that Apple, Google and Facebook have all held off joining a legal challenge to the new version so far. Fortune

A Sort of Victory for Europe’s Mainstream

The Netherlands held the line against the advancing forces of populism, re-electing center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The anti-immigrant party of Geert Wilders will be the second-largest party in parliament, but fell short of its previous record share of the vote. But Rutte will need at least three more parties to form a stable government, and the ideological overlap between them will be limited. Europe’s mainstream parties will take heart, having seen one of their own cling to power, albeit at the price of a shift rightwards to accommodate populist sentiment. Wilders has the satisfaction of seeing Rutte now obliged to implement parts of his agenda, without having the responsibility of governing himself. Time

Moonlighting à la Russe

The Justice Department charged four men, including two agents of Russia’s FSB (the successor to the KGB), with offenses related to a hack of Yahoo in 2014. While it’s tempting to weave this into a narrative of geopolitical scheming, the more plausible conclusion—especially in the light of the endless stream of corruption revelations by the likes of blogger Alexey Navalny—is simply that the Russian state functions as a loose confederation of organized crime gangs with no higher purpose than the extortion of money, be it by stealing e-mail addresses or stealing oil companies. That the Kremlin should exploit any synergies that happen to arise from the illegal marketing of erectile dysfunction drugs and other scams is only to be expected. Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

Trump Switches From Stick to Carrot With Detroit

President Donald Trump ordered a review of the tough new fuel efficiency targets for automakers, in what some fear could lead to a relaxation of those targets at a later date. The industry has pushed hard to water down the requirement that average fuel consumption improve to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and the prospect of regulatory relief is a stark counterpoint to recent threats over moving jobs to Mexico. The fuel efficiency requirement was part of Barack Obama’s deal to bail out Detroit in 2008, and aimed both to cut CO2 emissions and driving costs. Analysts estimate it would cut running costs by between $3000 and $5000 over a vehicle’s lifetime. The move won’t stop European and Japanese makers developing more efficient engines under similar government mandates at home, a fact which may come back to haunt Detroit if and when the current era of cheap fuel ends. Fortune

Tesla Levers Up to Roll Out Model 3

One company that stands to lose from any relaxation of fuel standards is Tesla, if Detroit passes the savings of lower R&D obligations on to buyers. Elon Musk may still not care too much, given his conviction of being on the right side of history. As expected, Tesla finally announced another capital raising (one part equity to three parts debt) to finance the development of the mass market Model 3. In all, the move could raise up to $1.15 billion. Its shares rose over 2% in after-market trading, as the relatively large reliance on debt meant that existing shareholders weren’t diluted as much as feared. Fortune

Ghosn Joins Stadler In Diesel Scandal Spotlight

Shares in Renault fell 3.7% after a government consumer protection agency recommended that CEO Carlos Ghosn be held personally responsible for the company’s suspected use of illegal software to hide excess emissions from its diesel vehicles. The company denies wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged, but independent data show its engines to be dirtier than many of those produced by Volkswagen (the key difference being that Renault didn’t try sneaking them past the EPA and CARB). Elsewhere, German police raided Audi offices across Germany in connection with the diesel scandal, highlighting the precarious position of CEO Rupert Stadler. Fortune

Wells Fargo Rewards the Scandal-Free

Wells Fargo’s board of directors awarded Chief Executive Tim Sloan $12.8 million for his work last year, a 17% increase, despite scrapping executive bonuses in response to the scandal over sales practices that rocked the bank last year. Sloan had been president and chief operating officer until October, when he replaced John Stumpf. CFO John Shrewsberry and wealth management head David Carroll also received bigger packages, having largely escaped the opprobrium of the scandal. Shareholders are due to vote on the awards at their annual meeting on April 26. Fortune

Summaries by Geoffrey Smith;