Dec 18, 2019

Axios Markets

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  • Situational awareness: It’s official… Fiat-Chrysler and Peugeot-maker PSA Group have signed off on a 50-50 merger, creating the world’s third-largest automaker by revenue.

Today's edition is 886 words or a 3-minute read.

"The most valuable commodity I know of is information." - See who said it and why it matters below.

1 big thing: Boeing's Teflon CEO

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images,  and David Ryder/Getty Images

Axios' Dan Primack writes: CEOs often depart without much explanation, outside of pablum about wanting to spend more time with their families or pursue new challenges.

  • At Boeing, whose 737 Max planes killed 346 people, the situation is reversed: CEO Dennis Muilenburg still has his job, despite a ruinous year that would have toppled most other CEOs.
  • No one seems to know why.

Muilenburg has led Boeing since 2015, and he has been heralded for achieving record profits and tripling the company's stock price.

But then came two crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets.

Why it matters: These horrors laid bare a culture at Boeing in which safety concerns were discounted — and federal regulators were treated as little more than malleable rubber stamps.

  • Muilenburg has proven unable to get Boeing's 737 Max fleet back in operation, and this week the company announced an indefinite production stoppage that was at one point unthinkable.
  • Boeing's profits have sagged, even turning a loss in Q2. Shareholders have lost more than $65 billion since March.

Where it stands: Muilenburg was stripped of his chairman title in October and recently vowed to forgo any 2019 bonuses, but he continues to lead the company and earn millions of dollars in base salary.

  • No member of Boeing's board, which includes Nikki Haley and Caroline Kennedy, has publicly declared opposition to Muilenburg.
  • No activist investor has threatened to wage a proxy fight over management.
  • Muilenburg told Congress in October that "you don’t run away from challenges” and that Boeing is "fixing" its "mistakes," but he's so far been unable to meet the challenges or fix the mistakes.
  • No one has given a rationale for why Muilenburg remains CEO — including nearly a dozen Boeing analysts contacted by Axios. One theory is that they simply don't think they can find someone better, but, again, it's just a theory.

The bottom line: Hundreds are dead. Families are devastated. Safety was secondary. Billions of dollars have been lost. Projected timelines have been scrapped, and optimism has proven misplaced. Suppliers now face their own uncertainties, threatening livelihoods beyond Boeing.

Share Dan’s story.

Bonus: Record pace of CEO exits
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Data: Challenger, Gray & Christmas; Note: Data shows announcements of departures among public and private companies with 10 or more employees that have been in business for at least two years; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Boeing’s CEO may still have his job, but corporate America's C-suite has undergone a record pace of turnover this year.

  • Zeroing in on just publicly traded companies, the number of departures is still high: 284 CEOs have left — the most since 2011.

Bonus stat ... For the first time since 2013, more companies hired CEO replacements from outside of the firm rather than within the firm — a sign that businesses want fresh perspectives.

Go deeper.

2. Pessimism about U.S. competitiveness

From Harvard Business School's report, "A Recovery Squandered: The State of U.S. Competitiveness 2019"

A key group of decision-makers has doubts about the U.S.'s ability to compete globally while raising living standards for workers, according to Harvard Business School's new alumni survey on U.S. competitiveness.

Why it matters: The results reflect concerns that the economy's record-long expansion has not been spread broadly among all Americans — a sentiment with implications for the 2020 election.

Between the lines: The respondents aren't representative of the general public, but they do represent a sample that tends to hold leadership positions and are "on the front lines of global capitalism," according to the report.

  • Yes, but: The pessimism is partisan. 51% of Republican alumni expected America's competitiveness to improve in the next three years, compared to only 24% of Democrats.

What they're saying: "The United States has done remarkably little to address underlying structural weaknesses in our economy and our society," the authors of the report write.

  • Structural failures in the U.S. political system are to blame, the authors say in this study and previous ones.

Of note: Harvard Business School asked alumni about big businesses' role in improving or worsening political dysfunction.

  • Most alumni don't believe their own companies engage in politics in ways that are "adverse to the public interest," but 49% said "business as a whole" did.

Read the report.

3. Catch up quick

FedEx slashed profit expectations again, as "weak international demand hurt sales and the courier ramped up investment to handle soaring e-commerce deliveries." (Bloomberg)

As part of the budget deal, Congress will likely extend tax breaks for beer, wine and distilled spirits — a provision initially approved as part of the 2017 tax bill. (Reuters)

Regulators found shortcomings in the exit strategies — or "living wills" — of six of the eight largest banks in the U.S. (Axios)

Mutual funds are increasingly backing proposals that push companies to provide more detail about their campaign spending. (Center for Political Accountability)

4. The stock market's record-setting streak
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Data: LPL Financial, S&P Dow Jones Indices and FactSet; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The stock market keeps eking out records. The S&P 500 and the Dow both closed at new highs again on Tuesday (following Monday's record closes).

  • The number of new highs outpaces last year's, but there are only 8 1/2 trading days left this year so 2019 won't beat 2017's records.

Yes, but: The indices' annual gains so far top past years.

  • S&P is up 27% so far this year, the biggest annual percentage gain since 2013, per CNBC.
  • The Dow is up 21%, on pace for its best year since 2017.
5. 1 🏦 thing: The Fed opens its doors to fintechs

The Fed is extending invitations to fintechs (and other companies interested in fintech) for face-to-face conversations. The sessions are called "financial innovation office hours,” the central bank announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: This is a first for the Fed board, though the San Francisco regional bank has hosted similar events in the past.

Even if the events are just optics, it is part of a trend: The Office of the Comptroller Currency (OCC) — a key regulatory body that decides who can be an official bank — announced similar “office hours” earlier this year.

  • The Federal Reserve is a regulator fintechs will need to answer to should they become a bank.

Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, said that quote in "Wall Street."

  • The character was at least partly inspired by Ivan Boesky — who was sentenced to prison for insider trading on this day in 1987.