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Shutdown, Day 35: A “ ‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude”
It went viral. Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, told Andrew on CNBC that he didn’t quite understand why unpaid workers, some of them now turning to Uber and Lyft for income after missing their second paycheck, were visiting food banks. They should just borrow some money, he said:
There really is not a good excuse why there should be a liquidity crisis. Now, true, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest. But the idea that it’s paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea.
Federal workers, many of them wary of taking on more debt, might also struggle to access credit. The credit union affiliated with Mr. Ross’s department advertises a shutdown loan with a rate higher than some other commercially available loans.
As the shutdown drags on, lawmakers are scrambling to find a compromise after two proposals to reopen the government fell flat in the Republican-controlled Senate. Mr. Trump’s plan, which included funding for a border wall, garnered less support than the Democrats’ recommendation, which omitted the wall.
The strain intensifies:
• Low- and middle-income home buyers in rural areas are left in the lurch without an affordable mortgage option offered by the Agriculture Department.
• Tyson Foods donated 685,000 meals to federal workers.
• The shutdown threatens to taint the appeal of public service, which “will make it harder to recruit and hold onto the experienced and talented,” Campbell Robertson writes.
• Patent handling may have to cease in mid-February.
• James Gorman, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley, said a prolonged shutdown would “have an extremely damaging effect.” Economists from J.P. Morgan said that, already, the stalemate had taken a toll on the U.S. economy.
Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin in Davos, Switzerland; Stephen Grocer in New York; and Tiffany Hsu and Gregory Schmidt in Paris.
A grim outlook in Davos, and in the rest of the world
The mood at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort is “subdued, cautious and apprehensive,” a reflection of the broader outlook, Fareed Zakaria writes in the Washington Post:
There is no great global political crisis, yet people speak in worried tones about the state of democracy, open societies and the international order.
The reason: Mr. Zakaria points to a noticeable absence of leadership from defenders of democracy. President Trump scrapped plans to attend to focus on domestic problems, as did Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain and President Emmanuel Macron of France.
The worry: The leaders of smaller countries described the world as lacking a collective purpose, he writes. Many yearn for a greater U.S. presence on the global stage, but with nobody shoring up the international system, will it weaken and eventually crumble?
The warnings: Michael Sabia, who runs the $270 billion Canadian pension fund Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec, complained that capitalists had forgotten their purpose as backers of corporate investment. “Too many equity investors are tourists; they’re not interested in building a business,” he said. And in a provocative speech, the billionaire philanthropist George Soros criticized President Xi Jinping, saying that China’s technological advancements made Mr. Xi a “dangerous opponent of open societies.”
Growth suffers as globalization falls to a snail’s pace
Complacency toward the trade tensions between the U.S. and China are misplaced, according to the Economist, because the rift is compounding a gradual shift in the world economy. Globalization, so the argument goes, has given way to a new era of sluggishness, or “slowbalization.”
The back story: In the golden age of globalization, from about 1990 to 2010, commerce soared as the cost of transporting goods fell, tariffs were cut and the financial system became liberalized.
The shift: Trade is suffering, and companies are changing their long-term investment plans. “Slowbalization” is expected to lead to stronger ties to regional blocs as supply chains seek sources closer to home.
Why it matters: Emerging countries will struggle to trade their way to riches. Climate change, migration and tax-dodging will be even harder to solve without global cooperation.
The effect is being felt around the world:
• Germany’s industrial slump worsened at the start of 2019, casting a cloud over the eurozone economy.
• Norway’s central bank said it was prepared to raise interest rates as soon as March, but warned of “considerable uncertainty” as it moves to wind down its stimulus plan.
• Starbucks put its recent sales slump behind it, beating analyst estimates in crucial regions, but the company’s growth in China is at a crawl.
PG&E, absolved in Tubbs Fire, is challenged over bankruptcy plans
The utility was cleared of responsibility in the 2017 blaze that chewed through a wide swath of Northern California, leading some to question whether the company should move ahead with its plans to file for bankruptcy by the end of the month.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said that private electrical equipment in a home caused the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, which killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,600 buildings. PG&E’s stock, which has plunged dramatically in recent months, surged 75 percent after the news on Thursday.
But the company is still facing billions of dollars of potential liabilities. State officials blame PG&E equipment for at least 17 of 21 major wildfires in 2017.
Bankruptcy, however, may not be the best course of action, according to many investors and analysts who say that PG&E has plenty of assets it could leverage against claims.
I spy with my satellite eye
From high above the Earth, a brigade of satellites can track the number of cars parked outside Sears stores, identify illegal logging operations, sense activity from cellular towers and snap infrared images of factories in Guangdong, China.
Nowadays, it’s not only superpower governments that can gain access to the trove of information. Start-ups working with human rights groups and businesses looking for a competitive edge are moving rapidly into high-altitude surveillance, Cade Metz writes.
Satellites have become cheaper to build, launch and operate, with 2,220 Earth observation units expected to head into orbit over the next decade, compared with about 730 satellites launched in the past decade.
Though some say that spying from the sky is a “narrow niche,” Mark Johnson, the chief executive of the start-up Descartes Labs, said the development could have major ramifications.
“Businesses will not be able to hide from competitors or regulators or watchdogs,” he said. “They need to realize that their traditional competitive advantage — information — will be available to everyone.”
David Giordano will become BlackRock’s global head of renewable power, replacing Jim Barry, who will remain global head of real assets. (Bloomberg)
The speed read
• The N.F.L. great Joe Montana, who founded a venture fund in 2015, participated in a $75 million fund-raising round for the marijuana brand Caliva. Carol Bartz, the former chief executive of Yahoo, also invested. (Bloomberg)
• Amazon is marketing facial recognition technology that a study reveals had difficulty identifying the gender of female faces and darker-skinned faces. (NYT)
• Shares of Tencent jumped more than 3 percent after Chinese regulators approved two of the company’s mobile games. (Reuters)
• A philanthropic investment group run by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan does not funnel data back to Facebook, Ms. Chan said. (Bloomberg)
Politics and policy
• Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Trump, was indicted in the special counsel investigation into election interference and charged with seven counts, including obstruction and witness tampering. (NYT)
• More than 90 percent of the Trump administration’s efforts to pare back federal regulations on business have been blocked in court or withdrawn after a lawsuit, according to a running tally. (CNBC)
• Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed a tax that would require the top 75,000 households to pay an annual 2 percent tax on net worth above $50 million, rising to 3 percent on every dollar above $1 billion. (Bloomberg)
• Two House committees sent an inquiry to Deutsche Bank about the lender’s ties to President Trump. A financial disclosure form showed at least $130 million in liabilities to a unit of the German bank for properties including the Trump International Hotel in Washington. (Reuters)
• According to a new study, members of Generation Z are more open to social change than older generations. These findings could substantially reshape the political landscape in the U.S. (NYT)
• The White House is considering several women as the next World Bank president, including the former PepsiCo chief executive Indra Nooyi and possibly Dina Powell, a Goldman Sachs executive who helped advise the Trump administration on national security matters. (WSJ)
• After a Chinese academic study named 66 companies, including Amazon and Apple, as having “misidentified” Taiwan as not being part of China, Taiwan’s foreign minister asked for support from “like-minded democracies.” (FT)
Best of the rest
• Kenneth Griffin’s purchase of a $238 million penthouse in New York heightened the debate about income inequality. (NYT)
• Thomas Enders, the chief executive at Airbus, called the lack of clarity for businesses in Brexit talks a “disgrace.” (WSJ)
• Hoping to address mounting public concerns over plastic waste, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo and other companies will try selling their products in reusable containers. (WSJ)
• Last year, as new laws focused on fraud targeting older customers, banks reported more than 24,000 suspected cases, more than double the number five years earlier. (WSJ)
• Munchery, a meal delivery company backed by venture capital, fired 250 people and shut down. (Bloomberg)
• Want a vacation home in the Hamptons? There are 82 percent more homes for sale in the beachfront towns than a year ago. (Bloomberg)
• Student demand for computer science courses is outstripping the supply of professors, creating an undergraduate divide of computing haves and have-nots. (NYT)
• Hedge fund start-ups are having a harder time amid rising costs and shrinking returns. The average size for new funds has sunk 72 percent, to $28 million, since 2000. (Bloomberg)
• Ford says it could face costs of up to $1 billion if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal. (Reuters)
• The San Joaquin County pension fund has decided to pull its entire $81 million from Bridgewater’s Pure Alpha II fund because of disappointing returns and high fees. (Bloomberg)
• Prices for Super Bowl commercials are flattening out after a decade of steady increases. Viewership peaked in 2015 and fell to its lowest level in nine years last year. (Bloomberg)
• In a blow to Google’s effort to compete with Amazon in e-commerce, Walmart has left Google’s Shopping Actions service and its Google Express delivery service. (Bloomberg)
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