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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Earnings rise and earnings fall, but one thing remains constant: The downside is almost always somebody else's fault.

The bottom line: It's China's turn in the scapegoat spotlight.

  • For many years coming out of the financial crisis, fingers were pointed at "political uncertainty," even though folks pretty much knew what they were going to get from President Obama (both before and after he got a Republican Congress).
  • Then there was Brexit and then U.S.-everybody trade tensions, as Axios' Courtenay Brown detailed in October.
  • Big storms and other extreme weather often get used as excuses, as if corporate America can only plan for 70 degrees and sunny.

Now it's going to be China.

Apple kicked off the coming wave on Wednesday night, blaming China's slowed economy for a big fourth quarter revenue miss. Never mind that the smartphone market was already known to be saturated or that Apple still hasn't nailed a big new product category since Tim Cook took over (unless you count the watch).

Nope, it's all about China — causing others to freak out via a (not entirely implausible) thesis that Apple's economic insights into the country are more trustworthy than the government's official data.

  • Such things have a way of feeding on themselves, eventually trickling down from the public markets into the private markets (where valuations are already under pressure, but where relatively few U.S. companies have near-term China growth plans).

The bottom line: Whether or not Apple is right about China's faster-than-expected economic deceleration or just playing its traditional role of outlier, others will seize on it to explain their own shortcomings. After all, if it's good enough for Apple, it's certainly good enough for us.

  • It's the iScapegoat, a perfect patsy for any troubles that may await in 2019.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.