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At Davos, conversations quickly flow from Russia to China

May 25, 2022, 10:16 AM UTC
Updated May 25, 2022, 8:22 PM UTC

Good morning.

The (dim) future of globalization is the hot topic this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos—which was founded five decades ago to promote globalization. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine features as the main culprit. But in private, conversations quickly flow from Russia to China. Xi’s embrace of Putin, Biden’s defense of Taiwan, a zero-Covid policy gone south, and a slowing Chinese economy all feed the speculation…although with no clear end point. Few see rapprochement on the horizon, but few see war as likely either.

For business leaders, the main sentiment is one of reducing risk. The Wall Street Journal’s recent report that Apple is trying to move production outside China is not an outlier. In our poll of Fortune 500 CEOs this month, we asked whether the CEOs were:

  • “reducing our exposure to the Chinese market because of concern about political and reputational risk.” 
  • “increasing our exposure to the Chinese market because of business opportunity”, or
  • “not involved in the Chinese market.”

A year ago, 23% choose the first option. This year, that jumped to 35%. Put another way: 61% of those who said their companies were involved with the Chinese market said they were looking to reduce their exposure. No one seems to know exactly where the U.S.-China relationship is headed, but many would prefer to hedge their bets.

By the way, we asked the CEOs which of their fellow 500 CEOs they most admired. JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon got the most mentions this year, followed closely by Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and then Apple’s Tim Cook.

Also this morning, Nadella can take home another award. Microsoft topped Indiggo’s ranking of the top 100 companies based on “Return on Leadership.” The ranking uses an AI evaluation of publicly available information to determine if the company speaks with strategic clarity and is executing on its purpose. You can read more about the ranking, and see who else ranked high, here.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Pfizer vaccines

Pfizer today said it will license all its medicines and vaccines (COVID included) to 45 low-income countries on a non-profit basis. CEO Albert Bourla warned Davos delegates—few of whom were masked—that complacency about COVID was going to cost lives. He said "constant waves" would likely kill many around three to six months from now, with people failing to get boosters as their already-gained immunity wains. Financial Times

Oligarch assets

The European Commission is today expected to propose the criminalization of sanctions evasion—a move that would allow EU countries to not only seize, but also to confiscate and sell, the assets of Russian oligarchs. Politico

Putin's rules

Putin wanted European energy companies to pay for their Russian gas in rubles, and he's pretty much gotten his way: a complex system is now in place through which the companies can claim to be paying in euros and sticking to current sanctions terms, and Russia can claim to be getting paid in rubles. Does this really abide by sanctions terms? That's not super-clear. Washington Post

Windfall tax

The British government is reportedly about to hit energy firms with a windfall tax that would be used to support people who are struggling to pay their soaring energy bills. The move may or may not help to distract the public from civil servant Sue Gray's now-landing report into repeated lockdown-rule-breaking by Boris Johnson's administration—a scandal that has outraged the nation. Telegraph


Another massacre

The U.S.'s gun-control debate is raging yet again after 19 elementary school children were slaughtered by a gunman in the city of Uvalde, Texas. President Biden: "How many scores of little children who witnessed what happened—see their friends die, as if they're in a battlefield, for God's sake. They'll live with it the rest of their lives." BBC

Chinese censorship chairman James Liang wrote Weibo posts criticizing the country's strict COVID lockdowns, claiming that a month of lockdown would reduce average life expectancy by four days. Then his posts were taken down and his account suspended. (Bonus read: Chinese lockdowns have reportedly hit development of at least one of Apple's incoming iPhones. Worst case is that initial production volumes are constrained.) Fortune

McDonald's v. Icahn

McDonald's will reportedly defeat activist investor Carl Icahn in a proxy fight over how the chain's suppliers stuff pregnant pigs into "gestation crates" that Icahn and others see as inhumane. Icahn doesn’t have a big McDonald's stake, so this was a long shot. Wall Street Journal

Crypto time

Coinbase has become the first cryptocurrency company to break into the Fortune 500, with last year's performance nabbing it the number-437 spot. Again, that's about 2021—this year is of course Crypto Winter time. (Bonus read: Fortune's Jane Thier and Chloe Berger examined this year's Fortune 500 list and came up with lists of the youngest and oldest CEOs in the pack.) Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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