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Brace yourselves for the coming days

November 2, 2020, 10:36 AM UTC

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Good morning…and brace yourself.

There’s a chance the U.S. election won’t be settled in the next 72 hours. And there’s a chance it won’t be decided without court intervention. More disturbing, there are signs extremists on both sides are prepared to take to the streets if they feel things have gone awry.

Twenty years ago, I oversaw the Wall Street Journal’s pop-up Florida bureau, covering the contentious recount of 2000. I well remember the heightened emotions of the time, and the sense that U.S. democracy was at a breaking point. Yet in the end, it ended, and the country moved on. (For an interesting take on that episode, read Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s new biography of James Baker, who outmaneuvered Democrats in the final 2020 election battle. And for a more pointed but entertaining version of the same, watch the new HBO Documentary, 537 Votes.)

This time could be harder. Emotions on both sides are higher. The odds that either side will stand down as graciously as Al Gore did are slim. Centrifugal forces are overpowering centripetal ones.

Why does this matter to business? Because we live at a moment when work and life are converging. Much is made of the role that the millennial generation plays in business, but here are some facts: millennials are less likely to be married than previous generations, less likely to join an organized religion, and less likely to join civic and social clubs. That means outside of social media—which can aggravate alienation as much as alleviate it—millennials depend on employers as their main formal connection to society. And the pandemic has only increased that dependence.

That puts an increased burden on corporate leaders, who feel greater responsibility for their employees’ health and well-being. It’s no surprise CEOs are staying out of the presidential race—the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that only six of the Fortune 100 had put money behind a candidate as of mid-October. That’s down from 11 four years ago and 32 eight years ago. They understand that, to effectively lead their employees, they need to avoid taking a public position, and be prepared to soothe post-election trauma.

Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, this ends smoothly. As Fortune’s Jeremy Kahn reports, the betting markets think it will be closer than the pollsters do. And television networks are lining up lawyers to explain the potential legal twists and turns. Stay tuned. More news below.

Alan Murray


Singles doubled

Alibaba's monumental "Singles' Day" sales event is this year running across two periods rather than one, to benefit merchants that have been suffering due to the pandemic. The first period began yesterday and runs through tomorrow, while the second will take place on Nov. 11 as is customary. China's economic recovery has largely been reliant on exports and government spending, and consumer spending remains depressed. Fortune

Aspen and J&J

Aspen Pharmacare, Africa's biggest drugmaker, has agreed to manufacture Johnson & Johnson's candidate vaccine at its factory in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Aspen has the capacity to make 300 million doses a year there. The news sent Aspen's share price up by as much as 7.2%. Bloomberg

Huawei chips

Huawei reportedly intends to build a chip factory in Shanghai, featuring zero American technology—its output would power Huawei's telecoms equipment, which is suffering under U.S. sanctions, and perhaps ensure the long-term survival of the company. Note: Huawei has no experience making chips. Financial Times

Airline disappointment

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary has laid into the British government for the second lockdown that was just announced, saying it wouldn't have been necessary if the U.K. had better testing and tracing. Europe's new lockdowns have led Ryanair to slash its flying schedule for the next six months. O'Leary: "It is clear that air travel is in the frontline of this pandemic ... And we think the only way out of this is for governments, the British, the Irish and other European governments, to introduce pre-departure testing." CNBC


Independent contractors

The Labor Department is misguided in its push to make it easier for business to classify their workers as independent contractors, writes Scott Casabona, president of the Signatory Wall and Ceiling Contractors Alliance, for Fortune. "This will undermine the entrepreneurs who create American jobs and provide economic stability for working families in favor of those who pass their business risks on to individual workers and taxpayers," he writes. Fortune

Long haul

Researchers may be beginning to understand the long-term COVID effects some people suffer for months after contracting the virus, even if their initial infections were not very serious—effects like heavy fatigue, memory lapses, dizziness and gastrointestinal issues. The main theory is that this is all down to inflammation. Wall Street Journal

Women decide

Supermajority cofounder Cecile Richards and managing director Amanda Brown Lierman write for Fortune that it will be women who decide this election. "Women are voting because their lives depend on it," they write. "Nearly 37 million women have already cast their ballots, making up 53.4% of early voters. In key states, women are fueling Joe Biden’s lead in the polls, putting us on track to surpass the record-setting gender gap we saw in 2016." Fortune

Beijing's choice

Which candidate would Beijing like to win? That's not clear, as Fortune's Grady McGregor writes, but the chaotic aspect of the whole process is just fine: "For the election specifically, media coverage has highlighted issues like partisan battles and problems with voting as a way to draw contrast to—in Beijing's view—China's more stable governing system." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.