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Putin’s war in Ukraine is already producing some surprising winners and losers

March 29, 2022, 10:10 AM UTC

Buongiorno. Bernhard Warner here in Rome, filling in for Alan.

Last week, we got a letter from our electric company. The good news: the rate we pay for electricity will go up, on average, by 300% this month. The bad news: the electric bill will probably go up again, and again, and again in future months. I was hardly surprised. A few days earlier, I had spent €100 to fill up the car with benzina, paying the equivalent of 10 bucks/gallon, far and away a personal record. (I’ve been living in Italy for 16 years now, and, yes, my Yank-brain still does the calculation in dollars and gallons.)

The price of energy is on everyone’s minds here in Europe—consumers and businesses alike. Governments across the eurozone are introducing relief measures to cap the energy-price gains, but it’s unlikely to make much difference. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned last week that the energy crunch will almost certainly plunge Europe into recession. Incidentally, Goldman Sachs says the odds of the United States sliding into recession now stands at 40%.

The latest growth shock, of course, is the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s devastation of cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv, and the retaliatory sanctions against Moscow, will continue to scramble the global energy markets for months to come, creating a list of winners and losers. It’s not hard to imagine who falls into the latter category. The Ukrainian people, of course, top the list. And, on the economic front, you can add energy-importing nations and businesses in fossil-fuel-intensive industries.

For the latest issue of Fortune, I spoke with one such banged-up company: Yara International, the global fertilizer giant based in Norway. A few days after war broke out in Ukraine, Yara had to shut down two of its natural-gas-powered plants—one in France, the other in Italy—as nat-gas prices spiked to a record. The decision really pained Yara CEO Svein Tore Holsether. The company could absorb the financial hit, he said. But the disruption to farmers, he feared, would push food prices higher, “creating a catastrophe on top of the catastrophe.”

We’ve already seen this play out with an epic jump in the price of wheat and corn in recent weeks that’s hitting the world’s poor particularly hard.

But the war is also acting as an accelerant—a force for innovation and change that few foresaw. From the energy experts I spoke with for the article, a lengthy list of “winners” will also emerge in the medium- and longer-term as well. This list includes the huge investment push into net-zero breakthroughs such as carbon capture and the jump into clean hydrogen as North America and Europe go all-in to wean their economies off Putin’s fossil fuels.

Fortune subscribers, you can read about the energy market’s new world order, created, for better or worse, by Putin’s decision to bomb his neighbors in Ukraine.

Bernhard Warner


Russian exodus

You can add a few more big corporate names to the march of brands taking flight from Russia since the start of the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine. According to Bloomberg, banking giant Credit Suisse will stop taking business from Russia and wealthy Russians. That follows news from the big brewers. Heineken and Carlsberg have huge market share in Russia, but both will depart the country imminently. Carlsberg CEO Cees't Hart called it the "right thing to do." Fortune

FedEx founder to retire

FedEx's Fred Smith will step down as CEO on June 1 from the company he founded nearly a half-century ago. He will be succeeded by COO Raj Subramaniam who, at 56, is 21 years Smith's junior. Smith won't go quietly into retirement. He plans to focus on the big issues impacting the planet: sustainability, public policy and fostering innovation. He'll continue to hold the executive chairman title. Wall Street Journal 

Stocks rally continues

The S&P 500 is on a three-day winning streak, and, as I type, the benchmark looks set to add to those gains at the opening bell. Tech stocks drove Monday's surge in U.S. equities with the Nasdaq leading the way. The tech-heavy exchange is now up more than 6% since the start of war in Ukraine. CNBC

Tesla stock split

Investors—particularly, retail investors—love a stock-split. Apparently, they really love a Tesla stock split. Shares jumped 8% on Monday after the EV pioneer said in a SEC filing that it plans to request at its upcoming annual shareholder meeting approval to seek a stock split. It gave no further details, but that didn't stop Tesla bulls from plowing into the stock. Fortune


Jets in exile

EU sanctions are hitting companies with Russia exposure particularly hard, none more so than Aircraft Leasing Ireland. As its name implies, ALI leases out jets, and one of its biggest markets is Russia. The leasing group has managed to impound and reclaim 78 of its jets when they land at an airport outside of Russia. It cannot get to the hundreds more inside Russia, leaving its fleet severely depleted. Fortune

The world's longest commercial flight

The war in Ukraine is scrambling the record books. According to Bloomberg, Cathay Pacific plans to reroute its Hong Kong to New York JFK flight to avoid Russian airspace. The route change would make the trip 16,618 kilometers (10,326 miles)—or more than 1,000 km longer than the current distance-holder: Singapore Airlines' 17-hour-plus New York service. Bloomberg

Huawei's "fight to survive"

Huawei's Meng Wanzhou, whose detention became a political flashpoint between China, Canada and the United States, made her first public appearance to investors yesterday since she won extradition back to her homeland last autumn. The daughter of founder Sen Zhengfei, Wanzhou addressed the massive international sanctions still facing the Chinese tech giant. "Our fight to survive is not over yet," she said after the company posted soaring year-on-year profits. CNN

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Bernhard Warner.

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