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China Sets the Pace — CEO Daily, Monday, 13th November

Good morning.

Saturday was Singles Day. If you still don’t know what Singles Day is, the time has come to learn—you can read a primer here. In short, it’s a 24-hour lonely-hearts-celebration-turned-shopping-extravaganza, hosted by Alibaba and its charismatic CEO Jack Ma, that has become the world’s biggest shopping event, reaching a mind-blowing $25 billion in sales this year and dwarfing Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

As the event ended Saturday night in China, a live sales ticker showed 163 billion yuan in total sales, up 39% from last year, and more than the annual GDP of Iceland. And it’s not just an Alibaba thing, either., one of its biggest e-commerce rivals, said it generated $19 billion from a rival event leading up to Singles Day.

Ma launched the event with a gala in Shanghai Friday night, and his star-studded stage included not just Chinese celebrities, but the likes of Nicole Kidman and Pharrell Williams. Over 140,000 brands offered special discounts for the sale, including P&G, Estee Lauder, Starbucks, Bose, Nike, Gap, and more.

Among other things, the event demonstrates the growing power of Alibaba’s mobile payment system, Alipay, which is far more sophisticated than anything similar here in the West, and is the leading counter to the notion that China lags the U.S. in innovation. Indeed, Singles Day, as contrived as it may be, makes clear that Chinese consumers are now setting the pace for global commerce. For consumer product companies, you can’t win the world if you aren’t winning in China.

I’ll be interviewing Ma early next month at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, which is our premier CEO-level event for global business. Among the other CEO attendees: Alex Gorsky of J&J, Pony Ma of Tencent, Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup, Frans van Houten of Royal Phillips, Terry Gou of FoxConn, Carlos Brito of AB InBev, Stuart Gulliver of HSBC, Henry Kravis of KKR, Mark Hoplamazian of Hyatt, and Chuck Robbins of Cisco. Attendance is by invitation only, but CEO Daily readers get special consideration. You can get more information here, or shoot me a note directly if you are interested.

More news below.

Alan Murray

Top News

GE Cuts Dividend

General Electric is to cut its dividend by half as part of John Flannery’s new strategy, a step that bears out fears about the company’s financial position. It’s only the third time in history that the bluest of blue chips has cut its payout, but tradition is for the birds, as the conglomerate is also reported by the The Wall Street Journal to be exiting the transportation and lighting businesses. The company is set to focus on power, healthcare, and aviation under Flannery’s new strategy, putting a question mark over newly-acquired oil services unit Baker Hughes. It’s not clear whether the plan includes a dynamo attached to Thomas Edison spinning in his grave. Fortune

Uber Smoothes the Way for Softbank

Softbank’s proposed $10 billion investment in Uber moved forward after former CEO Travis Kalanick and Benchmark Capital, an early investor in the company, settled their argument over board seats. Softbank won’t be handing over any money until there is clarity about Uber’s future governance, and Softbank’s investment in an indispensable part of CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s strategy of getting the company to market in 2019. Fortune

Boeing Crashes Airbus’ Dubai Party

Airbus’ hopes of securing the future of its struggling A380 super-jumbo project took a major hit, after Emirates, de facto the only buyer of the A380, placed an order for 40 787-10 Dreamliners worth $15 billion at list prices. Stories ahead of the Dubai air show had suggested that Emirates would instead sign a contract of that size with Airbus. Reuters quoted Emirates CEO Tim Clark as saying Monday that the carrier wanted a guarantee that the European company would be making the A380 for at least 10 years before it placed an order. Fortune

Brookfield Tries To Pull GGP Back from the Precipice

Brookfield Property is set to bid $14.8 billion for the 66% of mall operator GGP that it doesn’t already own, according to The Wall Street Journal. That will allow it to push through the kind of changes needed to make the malls survive beyond this annus horribilis for retail. The WSJ said GGP wants to add features such as office space, entertainment, and even apartment blocks to its properties. Brookfield is looking to conserve cash by offering half of the deal in equity. WSJ, subscription required

Around the Water Cooler

Fork Off, Bitcoin Bears

Bitcoin fell 29% over the weekend in another minor setback to its progress to being the world’s favorite store of value and means of exchange. However, it’s back over $6,000 this morning so those waiting to erupt in Schadenfreude when it all goes pear-shaped will have to hold it in for a while yet. The latest volatility was caused by the abandonment of plans for a ‘fork’ of the Bitcoin blockchain that would have improved transaction executions but sacrificed some liquidity. Elsewhere Monday, the European Securities Markets Authority warned about the perils of investing in Initial Coin Offerings.  Fortune

Between the Liberal Scylla and Conservative Charybdis

The latest in this year’s running series of politically-motivated product boycotts hit coffee-maker Keurig. Conservatives exploded in outrage after it pulled its ads from Fox News’s Sean Hannity show, in response to Hannity’s perceived soft-pedalling on Alabama Senator Roy Moore. Keurig, owned by German private-equity group JAB, is the latest to fail to steer successfully between the liberal Scylla and conservative Charybdis that seem intent on destroying civilized discourse in the U.S.. NY Post

There’s No More Relying on Reliance

Reliance Communications, once the biggest mobile operator in India, is skidding towards bankruptcy after Anil Ambani’s business was hollowed out by competition from his own brother at Reliance Jio. The company posted a fourth straight quarterly loss and missed payments on various debentures Monday, including non-convertible ones. RCom’s latest plan to cut debt by selling infrastructure and real estate to Brookfield came to nothing. Reuters

Gates Tries to Unlock Alzheimer’s Secrets

Bill Gates made his first move to support research into Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that has stubbornly resisted the best efforts of pharma companies to break its tyranny over the growing ranks of elderly. The Microsoft co-founder is donating $50 million to the London-based Dementia Discovery Fund. Fortune

Summaries by Geoffrey Smith;