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China trade dispute drags on; Trump still ‘playing with the bank’s money’

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President Donald Trump speaks at the 38th Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 15, 2019.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

When it comes to his position on the U.S.-China trade dispute, President Donald Trump is still playing the role of a riverboat gambler on a hot streak.

Nearly a year ago, Trump was pressed, during a CNBC interview, to explain his aggressive tariff strategy both against China and other partners around the world. The S&P 500 was up nearly 5% for the year as of the July 20 appearance, and the large-cap index had risen 31% since his election victory in 2016.

“This is the time. You know the expression, ‘we’re playing with the bank’s money,'” he said. 

The expression is actually “playing with the house money” and is a gambling metaphor for someone wagering with their winnings and thus not having as much to lose. 

Some 10 months later, and the president’s gambit is still backed up by a solid stock market that’s gained about 42% since the election and an economy that gives him the leeway to keep pressing his case for a more level playing field.

“There’s house money here. The [U.S.] market is at virtually all-time highs, interest rates are low with very little inflation, and the whole world is investing in the United States as the safe-haven equity trade,” said Michael Yoshikami, CEO and founder of Destination Wealth Management. “So that’s a pretty strong position to be in.”

‘Their own version of the financial crisis’

Yoshikami’s firm is based in San Francisco and he travels frequently to China to meet with clients.

What he’s seen over the past year is a nation on edge, worried about its growth potential as it switches from an export-driven economy to one that has better balance due to stronger consumption. With that backdrop, Trump would seem to have plenty of chips and a strong hand to play.

Still, nerves are jangled on Wall Street. Market participants worry that escalation in the tit-for-tat tariff battle could dent business and consumer confidence and lead to a prolonged slowdown.

But Yoshikami asserts that China has more to sweat than the U.S.

“China really needs a deal. The economy is having a real issue,” he said. “If you talk to people in China, things are slowing down and the population knows it.”

Indeed, data released Wednesday showed that retail sales growth in China hit a 16-year low and industrial production was well below consensus estimates. GDP growth is about half what it was during its peak and real estate prices are plummeting.

“What people fail to realize is what’s happening in the trade situation is their own version of the financial crisis that we had in 2008,” Yoshikami said. “The president knows that.”

Playing the Fed ace

But what Yoshikami thinks may be the real ace in the hole for the U.S. is the Federal Reserve, which has put policy changes on hold for the rest of the year. Traders, in fact, see a strong chance that the central bank will cut its benchmark interest rate before 2019 is up.

“That’s actually the house money that’s being utilized,” he said. “Even though there’s lots of drama going on with China, the administration figures they always have the Federal Reserve, as well as the bully pulpit, to stabilize the market.”

At the retail level, though, investors remain on edge that the continuing saber-rattling is destabilizing.

As tensions have ramped up over the past week, investors have pulled nearly $7 billion from the SPDR S&P 500 Trust, the most popular ETF for playing the large-cap index. Equity ETFs and mutual funds have seen $116 billion in outflows in 2019 even with the sizable gains stocks have seen, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch

“He risks pushing this too hard,” Mitchell Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy, said of Trump’s trade posture. “This whole fight is about long-term gain for short-term pain. Trump has that on his side.”

Goldberg doesn’t sense any panic among his clientele, but he also doesn’t see a lot of interest in adding to existing allocations.

“The money in the market is staying there,” he said. “But it’s new money that’s not getting off the sideline.”

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Nearly 200 CEOs say shareholder value is no longer a main objective

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Jamie Dimon, CEO, JP Morgan Chase, speaking at the Business Roundtable CEO Innovation Summit, December 6, 2018.

Janhvi Bhojwani | CNBC

Shareholder value is no longer the main focus of some of America’s top business leaders.

The Business Roundtable, a group of chief executive officers from major U.S. corporations, issued a statement Monday with a new definition of the “purpose of a corporation.”

The reimagined idea of a corporation drops the age-old notion that corporations function first and foremost to serve their shareholders and maximize profits. Rather, investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing ethically with suppliers and supporting outside communities are now at the forefront of American business goals, according to the statement.

“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” said the statement signed by 181 CEOs. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

The conscience of Wall Street has been at the forefront of American business and politics recently as issues about economic equality and fair business practices dominate the 2020 election stage and the overall news cycle.

The Business Roundtable,  founded in 1972, has put out many statements on the principles of corporate governance since the late 1970s. It said this new definition “supersedes” past statements and outlines a “modern standard for corporate responsibility.”

“The American dream is alive, but fraying,” Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase and chairman of Business Roundtable, said in a press release.

Along with Dimon, the statement received signatures from chiefs including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan, Dennis A. Muilenburg of Boeing and GM’s Mary Barra.

“Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans,” said Dimon.

Another one of the signatures is from BlackRock chief Larry Fink, who has previously called on CEOs to reevaluate the purpose of a corporation, specifically the “inextricable link” between purpose and profit.

“Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them,” Fink wrote in his 2019 annual letter to shareholders. “As divisions continue to deepen, companies must demonstrate their commitment to the countries, regions, and communities where they operate, particularly on issues central to the world’s future prosperity.”

Fink said that fundamental economic changes and the failure of the U.S. government to provide lasting solutions has forced society to look to companies for guidance on social and economic issues, such as environmental safety and gender and racial equality.

Here is the full Business Roundtable statement.

Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth.

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:

  • Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
  • Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
  • Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.

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US grants Huawei another 90 days to buy from American suppliers: Ross

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (R) and other Trump Administration officials sit down with Chinese vice ministers and senior officials for trade negotiations in the Diplomatic Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 30, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday the U.S. government will extend a reprieve given to Huawei Technologies that permits the Chinese firm to buy supplies from U.S. companies so that it can service existing customers, even as nearly 50 of its units were being added to a U.S. economic blacklist.

The “temporary general license,” due to expire on Monday, will be extended for Huawei for 90 days, he told Fox Business Network Monday, confirming an expected decision first reported Friday by Reuters. He also said he was adding 46 Huawei affiliates to the Entity List, raising the total number to more than 100 Huawei entities that are covered by the restrictions.

Ross said the extension was to aid U.S. customers, many of which operate networks in rural America.

“We’re giving them a little more time to wean themselves off,” Ross said.

Shortly after blacklisting the company in May, the Commerce Department initially allowed Huawei to purchase some American-made goods in a move aimed at minimizing disruption for its customers.

Huawei did not immediately comment Monday.

The extension, through Nov. 19, renews an agreement continuing the Chinese company’s ability to maintain existing telecommunications networks and provide software updates to Huawei handsets.

Asked what will happen in November to U.S. companies, Ross said: “Everybody has had plenty of notice of it, there have been plenty of discussions with the president.”

When the Commerce Department blocked Huawei from buying U.S. goods earlier this year, it was seen as a major escalation in the Sino-U.S.trade war.

The U.S. government blacklisted Huawei, alleging the Chinese company is involved in activities contrary to national security or foreign policy interests.

As an example, the blacklisting order cited a pending federal criminal case concerning allegations Huawei violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. Huawei has pleaded not guilty in the case.

The order noted that the indictment also accused Huawei of deceptive and obstructive acts.

At the same time the United States says Huawei’s smartphones and network equipment could be used by China to spy on Americans, allegations the company has repeatedly denied.

Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without additional special licenses.

Many Huawei suppliers have requested the special licenses to sell to the firm. Ross told reporters late last month he had received more than 50 applications, and that he expected to receive more. He said on Monday that there were no “specific licenses being granted for anything.”

Out of $70 billion that Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to U.S. companies including Qualcomm, Intel, and Micron Technology. Intel declined to comment on Monday.

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The world’s largest all-electric ferry completes maiden voyage

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An all-electric ferry capable of carrying roughly 30 vehicles and 200 passengers has completed its maiden voyage.

Toward the end of last week, the e-ferry Ellen crossed waters between the ports of Soby and Fynshav, which are located on the islands of Aero and Als in the south of Denmark.

The ship is powered by a battery system with a capacity of 4.3 megawatt hours, which was supplied by Switzerland-headquartered energy storage firm Leclanche.

In a statement last week, Leclanche said the e-ferry Ellen, which it described as the world’s biggest all-electric ferry, was expected to be fully operational in the next few weeks. Leclanche CEO Anil Srivastava described the ship as “the precursor to a new era in the commercial marine sector.”

He added that over the course of one year the ferry would stop the release of 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 2.5 tons of particulates and 1.4 tons of sulfur dioxide.

The development of electric ferries like the Ellen comes at a time when the International Maritime Organization is preparing to introduce new regulations relating to sulfur oxide emissions, as efforts are made to tackle pollution in the sector. In January 2020, the IMO will ban shipping vessels using fuel with a sulfur content higher than 0.5%, compared to levels of 3.5% at present.

“This project demonstrates that today we can replace fossil fuel thermal drives with clean energy, and thus contribute to the fight against global warming and pollution for the well-being of our communities,” Leclanche’s Srivastava said.

According to those behind the e-ferry project, which has received funding from the European Union, the Ellen is able to sail as much as 22 nautical miles (approximately 25.3 miles) between charges.

It is the latest example of innovative technologies powering larger-scale forms of transport. In September 2018, European railway manufacturer Alstom launched what it described as the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell train.

The French business said that the Coradia iLint used fuel cells that turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. In terms of speed, the train can travel up to 140 kilometers per hour.

CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this report 

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