CEO Daily: Wednesday, 17th May

May 17, 2017, 11:07 AM UTC

Good morning.

Rather than follow the herd and lead with stories of Donald Trump and James Comey (you can find the distilled essence below), I thought it would be more useful to draw attention to a survey released today by Quest Diagnostics, which shows that drug use among the U.S. workforce has risen to its highest in 12 years.

“This year’s findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations,” said Barry Sample, PhD, senior director, science and technology, Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions. The only crumb of comfort in the report is that positivity rates for heroin, the most destructive opioid, is plateauing.

A part of the rise in positivity rates is clearly due to the legalization of marijuana. In Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize recreational use of pot, the results of urine tests on employees suggest a rise of over 10% in use of the drug by employees, more than twice the national average. The growing number of states to follow them down that path can surely expect a similar trend in the future.

More worrying, arguably, is a clear and unbroken rising trend in cocaine and methamphetamine use. Positivity rates for cocaine rose 8% last year; Meth rates have risen 64% over the last four years.

Quest very rightly points out that there is no substitute for vigilance among employers. Accident risks rise and performance suffers when people come to work with drugs still in their system (alcohol being the most obvious and the most common example). But there is more to vigilance than buying the sort of testing services with which Quest makes its living. Our own life experience tells us that workplace environments often encourage drug use, whether by placing unreasonable burdens on staff, or by leaving them under-stimulated.

And without downplaying the importance of individual responsibility, every business can do something to mitigate that.

News below.

Top News

I Hope You Can Let This Go.”

President Donald Trump asked James Comey to shut down the FBI’s probe into Michael Flynn, Trump’s first choice as National Security Adviser, according to a memo written by the former director after a meeting with Trump. The substance of the memo, first reported by the New York Times but corroborated by many other outlets, was denied by the White House. However, contemporaneous notes of conversations made by FBI agents are routinely accepted in court as credible evidence. The news triggered “Lots of chatter from Ds and Rs about the exact definition of ‘obstruction of justice,’” on the Senate floor, Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted. House Oversight Committee Chair Joshua Chaffetz (R-Utah) asked Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to deliver all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Trump and Comey by May 24. Fortune

Markets Start to Price in Political Concerns

The dollar weakened and stocks sold off as an increasing sense of crisis in Washington finally fed through into the behavior of investors and traders. The euro hit its highest level against the dollar since Trump’s election, while the yen hit a two-week high. Stock futures also retreated, while bond prices surged on ‘safe haven’ bids. Gold prices rose for the fifth day in a row, also hitting a two-week high. The markets’ chief fear is that the President’s reflationary and liberalizing agenda may not survive if he is forced from office. While that scenario may have appeared fanciful a week ago, a poll published Tuesday by Public Policy Polling found a majority in favor of impeachment for the first time. Fortune

BHP Billiton Gives Ground to Elliott

BHP Billiton, the oil and mining company under pressure from activist investor Elliott Management, said its CEO Andrew Mackenzie had agreed to meet the fund’s representatives after weeks of refusing to. Elliott has shifted its tactics recently, and is no longer pressing it to abandon its dual listing structure, but it still wants a thorough review of the company’s oil business, which includes both profitable offshore operations and a host of investments in U.S. shale that have failed to pay off, at least yet. WSJ, subscription required

After-Treating the Diesel Scandal

Shares in Fiat Chrysler fell over 2% after a report that the EU will start legal action against Italy for not policing allegations of emissions cheating by the country’s largest car-maker. Elsewhere, German prosecutors opened another formal investigation into suspected market manipulation at VW. The new probe targets CEO Matthias Müller and chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch in their role as officers of Porsche SE, the holding company that controls over 52% of VW shares. It’s not clear whether that increases their jeopardy, or whether the state attorneys of Baden-Württemberg just wanted a piece of the action that has been concentrated in Lower Saxony. Reuters

Around the Water Cooler


Wireless Price War Leaves Its Mark

The rise of unlimited mobile data plans, coupled with increasingly fierce price competition, is carving holes in wireless carriers’ P&L sheets. For the first time in 17 years, carriers’ quarterly revenue from data plans declined from the previous year, wireless market analyst Cherian Sharma noted in his report on results from the first three months of the year. T-Mobile is the only carrier to be benefiting, having added most customers and seen its share price rise 15% year-to-date, while its rivals’ have fallen. Sharma also noted that cars accounted for 50% of all connected devices added in a quarter for the first time. Fortune

AT&T Workers May Go Back on Strike

Some 21,000 workers in AT&T's wireless business threatened to go on strike for two days over the weekend if they don’t reach a deal on a new contract by Friday afternoon. The workers, spread across 36 states, have been working without a contract since February, and notified AT&T on April 28 that they may go on strike at any time. The Communications Workers of America union, which represents them, wants more than the 2% annual pay raise offered, tighter job security, and a freeze of worker health care contributions. Fortune

Theranos Concludes Peace With Investors

Elizabeth Holmes' beleaguered blood testing startup Theranos closed a deal to give some of its investors new stock in the company in return for shareholders agreeing not to sue. Theranos’ early backers had alleged the company raised money fraudulently with “a series of lies” about the capabilities of its blood-testing technology. The settlement removes some of the legal obstacles to Theranos resuming its core business, but not the principal one, which is the complete loss of customer trust. Fortune

When Just Flying First-Class Isn’t Enough

Celebrities traveling in and out of Hollywood now have a little respite from the paparazzi and crowded security lines—a private terminal at LAX. Members of the facility, which is the first of its kind in the country, get exclusive accommodations with a two-person daybed, a serviced food pantry, and their very own bathroom, before a BMW sedan drives them "Head-of-State style" across the tarmac to the aircraft. You might want to think twice before billing it to the shareholders, mind. Fortune

Summaries by Geoffrey Smith; @geoffreytsmith

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