President Trump goes to war with 3M

April 6, 2020, 10:30 AM UTC

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Good morning.

President Trump Friday slammed 3M, which makes the much-in-demand N-95 respirator masks, and said he was invoking the Defense Production Act to force the company into submission. “We’re not happy with 3M. We’re not at all happy with 3M,” he said at the White House press briefing. 3M CEO Mike Roman, whom I interviewed on this subject earlier this month, fought back. He said the company is going above and beyond to manufacture respirator masks for the U.S., and said that any suggestion that “3M is not doing all it can to fight price gouging and unauthorized reselling is absurd.”

It’s hard to get to the bottom of this breakdown between the White House and 3M. But my reading, from the public comments of both sides, is that it has less to do with whether Mr. Roman is putting financial obligations over social obligations, and more to do with which societies he is supposed to oblige. His company is based in the U.S., but operates throughout the world. Does corporate patriotism require him to put the humanitarian needs of the U.S. above all others?

President Trump and his advisor, Peter Navarro, seem to think the answer to that question is yes. Part of the dispute resolved around White House efforts to get 3M to back off commitments to ship a portion of its U.S. respirator production to Canada and Latin America. But abandoning those commitments would clearly put 3M in a sticky situation. “There are going to be consequences on a humanitarian level, as we are often the sole provider of these respirators around the world,” Mr. Roman said on CNBC Friday. There would be consequences on an economic level as well, if other countries reciprocate by saying all products produced within their borders can’t be shipped abroad during times of crisis. One more example of how the coronavirus is adding to the strains on globalization.

For now, 3M seems to be doing what it can to address the U.S. respirator shortage. “We saw this coming in January. We decided to double our production in January,” Roman said. “We are manufacturing 35 million a month in the U.S. We are getting 10 million a month (from our plants) in China. We are expecting to add another 5 million to that as we get through April, another 10 million to that as we get through June. We will bring more on line later this year, so we will double our production by the end of the year. That’s what it will take to get this into balance.”

Separately, Arvind Krishna takes over as CEO of IBM this morning. I spoke with him last night, on the eve of his first day, and he talked about the importance of creating a culture of risk-taking and a mindset of growth at the 109-year-old technology company. You can read the interview, and the letter he sent to employees this morning, here.

Meanwhile, Friday’s dismal employment report sparked a new debate on whether the coming economic downturn is a recession or a depression. Fortune’s Erik Sherman interviewed ten experts on the topic in an effort to come up with a clear answer. You can read his report here.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Lockdown effect

The lockdowns seem to be working—that's the message markets are taking from declines in death rates in New York and parts of Western Europe, including hard-hit Italy and Spain. Markets rose in Asia (Nikkei 225 up 4.2%, Hang Seng up 2.2%) and in Europe (Stoxx 600 up 2.8% at the time of writing), and U.S. futures suggest a roughly 3.7% bump at opening. Bloomberg

Commerce shutdown

A Wall Street Journal analysis suggests at least a quarter of the U.S. economy has gone idle as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Economists say the scale of the shutdown is unprecedented—8 in 10 U.S. counties are under lockdown orders, representing nearly 96% of national output. WSJ

Facebook antitrust

The European Commission has asked competitors of Facebook's Marketplace service about its effect on their classified-ads businesses. This is the third questionnaire that the Commission's competition team has sent out in the context of building a potential case against Facebook—charges were likely to appear this summer, though the timing is now questionable given the coronavirus crisis. Financial Times

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has been hospitalized due to his persistent COVID-19 symptoms. The British prime minister is still in charge of his government, though foreign secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for him at today's coronavirus meeting. Leaders from around the world—as well as domestic political rivals—have sent their good wishes. Fortune


Cannabis boom

U.S. lockdowns have led to soaring demand in the cannabis sector, and not just from stereotypical stoners. As Melanie Warner's piece notes: "Cannabis 2.0 consumers are older and more female than cannabis enthusiasts of years past, and they’re showing up at dispensaries not just to get high but for health and wellness needs." Fortune

5G fires

Conspiracy theories incorrectly linking the 5G rollout with the coronavirus outbreak have apparently led some people to torch cell towers in the U.K., and have also prompted the harassment of telecoms engineers in the country. There is absolutely no evidence to back up such fears; indeed, each new generation of mobile communications technology leads some to fear adverse health effects, but there is never any evidence to support them. Fortune

WeWork analysis

Is coronavirus responsible for (almost, at the time of writing) killing off WeWork? As Emanuele Midolo writes for Wired, the real culprit is the "illusory truth effect", where people believe something because it is repeated so frequently: "WeWork had always used technology as an excuse to inflate its value beyond the borders of a classic real estate company." Wired

Media impact

The local newspaper industry is being hit hard by the crisis. Just when readers are flocking to find out more about the outbreak's local impact, advertising is cratering and publications are having to downsize or even shut down as a result. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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