Fears of an escalation of the U.S.-China trade war caused stocks to plummet yesterday in the U.S., and continue their decline this morning in Asia. But the man who has spent more years doing business in China than any other American—former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg—said he remained confident the two sides would reach a deal.
“I didn’t sell any stock,” he said. Greenberg, who turned 94 on Saturday, joined Fortune last night at a dinner that is part of the lead-up to the Fortune Global Sustainability Forum in Yunnan province on Sept. 4-6. The event will be a gathering of global business, government and NGO leaders who are focused on ways to accelerate solutions to climate change and other environmental problems.
Greenberg and others at the dinner emphasized that economic reform of the sort the Trump team is pushing is in China’s interest, and many Chinese officials favor it. But they also noted that President Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on China this week will make it harder for President Xi Jinping to compromise without losing face.
Greenberg led the business campaign in 2001 to admit China to the World Trade Organization—a move Trump has criticized. But Greenberg said he has no regrets. China did not open its economy as much as he expected at the time, but “you can’t keep 1.4 billion people out of the global trading system.”
Since being forced out as CEO of AIG in 2005, Greenberg has built a second financial services giant, C.V. Starr. These days he is entangled in a dispute with AIG over which firm is the true successor to the company Cornelius Vanderbilt Starr started 100 years ago.
When I asked whether, given his recent birthday, it might be time to consider retirement, he replied: “I’d get too bored.”
Donald Trump’s businesses lost $1.17 billion in the decade between 1985 and 1994, according to the now-president’s leaked IRS tax transcripts, as reported by the New York Times. From the piece: “Year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.” The world waits with bated breath to see what Trump’s subsequent tax returns look like, if his administration ends up losing its fight to block their release. NYT
Iran has renounced some of its commitments under the nuclear deal that was already badly damaged by the U.S.’s withdrawal. Reuters’ French government sources say international sanctions may follow. The country is threatening to resume production of weapons-grade uranium. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Iraq yesterday, telling the press that the U.S. is concerned about Iraqi sovereignty due to supposed Iranian threats. The U.S. is sending bombers to the region. Everyone is very tense right now. Reuters
Lyft has issued its first results as a public company, showing both strong growth and widening losses. Quarterly revenue was, at $776 million, nearly double the revenue from Q1 the year before. Loss per share? $9.02, which is better than the loss of $11.40 per share a year previously. Lyft forecasts Q2 revenue just north of $800 million. CNBC
Uber drivers in the U.S. and U.K. plan to celebrate the company’s imminent IPO by going on strike today. The drivers want better pay, a bigger cut of fares, recognition of their rights as workers, and an end to unfair dismissals. Riders are being urged to also avoid opening the app today, in solidarity. Bloomberg
Around the Water Cooler
Alibaba’s AliExpress ecommerce business is stepping up its global ambitions by allowing retailers from outside China to sell their products on its global platform. This is a significant step in the Chinese behemoth’s quest to take on Amazon, and one that is somewhat motivated by slowing growth back in China. Financial Times
Disney has unveiled its list of planned movies for the next eight years, so get ready for an annual tradition of there being either a new Avatar movie (there will be four sequels to the 2009 film) or a new Star Wars (yep, there’s going to be another trilogy after this year’s Rise of Skywalker.) Also, five more Marvel movies over the next few years. Wall Street Journal
The U.K. is definitely participating in the European Parliament elections that will take place in a few weeks. Prime Minister Theresa May had been hoping to seal a Brexit deal with her opposition counterpart, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, that would have obviated the need for British participation in the election. But it wasn’t to be. Politico
South African Election
South Africa goes to the polls today. There’s no doubt that Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC party will win again; the question is by how much. If the party loses too much support to the liberal DA and far-left EFF parties—and a host of smaller players—then some say Ramaphosa’s position will be in doubt, and he might be displaced by ANC figures who have been linked with heavy corruption. Africa’s second-largest economy still hasn’t recovered from the corrupt government of Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, so the markets will be watching closely. New York Times