The Finance 202: Biden fills out economic team as Trump's coalition continues to implode

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The Cabinet picks balance Raimondo, a former venture capitalist who has clashed with organized labor, against Walsh, who has championed the needs of workers. And they amplify a signal Biden has been sending with other personnel decisions — that his administration will thread the moderate and liberal wings of his party as he seeks to restore stability to government.

The chaos consuming the final days of Trump’s presidency highlight the urgency of that challenge. 

Just Thursday, Trump’s White House suffered a raft of resignations following his role stirring the violent mob that attacked the Capitol the day before. Among those quitting: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Tyler Goodspeed, the acting chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. 

Ditto Mick Mulvaney, who has served Trump as acting chief of staff, budget director, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and, most recently, special envoy to Northern Ireland. 

The former tea party congressman from South Carolina, who is seeking investments for a hedge fund he aims to launch, announced his decision on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” explaining, “I can’t do it. I can’t stay.” (There are now 12 days until Biden’s inauguration.)

It fell to lower-level White House staffers, speaking anonymously to Politico, to spell out the other major consideration for those eyeing the exits. As one put it, ”This will hurt us in trying to get jobs.”

The defections aren’t just coming from within the administration. 

The president faces growing calls for his removal from office — either through impeachment, which Democratic leaders say they are prepared to pursue, or through the 25th Amendment, an option former chief of staff John Kelly said he would have supported if he was still in the Cabinet. The conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called for him to resign. 

And a number of Trump’s staunchest supporters from Wall Street and beyond are cutting ties, in what appears to be a mix of last-minute reputation-rinsing and earnest revulsion at the president’s role stoking violent resistance to the transfer of power. 

Billionaire investor Nelson Peltz, also appearing Thursday on CNBC, said he regrets voting for the Trump in November. He called the assault on the Capitol a “disgrace. As an American, I’m embarrassed… All the good was gone, was thrown out, over the course of the last month and finished yesterday.” Peltz, who said he is a registered independent, has contributed $464,000 to the Republican National Committee since 2016, per figures from the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Leading lobbyists in Washington continued to speak out. 

Jay Timmons, a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who now heads the National Association of Manufacturers, called Wednesday for Vice President Pence to consider invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power. 

Expanding on that in a Washington Post op-ed, Timmons writes, “The only way to prevent further violence in these critical days is to address the root cause: the person inciting the violence. Trump should be held accountable. There are options besides the 25th Amendment, including resignation and impeachment… It also needs to be clear that any elected leader defending the president’s actions is violating his or her oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy.”

The Business Roundtable, which released a statement Wednesday decrying the deadly attempted insurrection, put a sharper point on the condemnation in a follow-up statement on Thursday. “Yesterday’s inexcusable violence and chaos at the Capitol makes clear that elected officials’ perpetuation of the fiction of a fraudulent 2020 presidential election is not only reprehensible, but also a danger to our democracy, our society and our economy,” the CEO lobbying group said.

What, if anything, will follow those statements remains less clear. 

We’ve written here about roughly three dozen CEOs agreeing on a Tuesday conference call they would no longer direct campaign contributions to Republicans who objected to the certification of Biden’s electoral college win. One of the organizers of that effort, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), is already seeing blowback, as publisher Simon & Shuster canceled a book contract with him and a home-state donor, Tamko Building Products CEO David Humphreys, called for his censure.

In the end, 139 House members and seven senators joined Hawley in voting to overturn the election results. Now, those lawmakers’ corporate backers could face pressure from two directions. Judd Legum, a newsletter author with a big following, is seeking to put major corporations on the spot over whether they will continue supporting those lawmakers: 

And Steve Schmidt, the former Republican strategist now with The Lincoln Project, said the Never Trump group will seek to expose corporations that contribute to the president’s top allies in Congress: 

Fallout from mayhem at the Capitol

A Capitol Police officer has died.

Five people have now died in connection to the riot: “Officer Brian D. Sicknick died at about 9:30 p.m. last night, the Capitol Police said in a statement. He had been with the agency since 2008,” the New York Times’s Mike Baker reports.

Silicon Valley is bracing for a reckoning.

The brief insurrection adds further fuel to the bipartisan loathing of big tech: “Facebook, Google and Twitter are staring down the prospect of harsh new regulations in Washington, as politically ascendant Democrats in Congress pledge to take fresh aim,” Tony Romm reports this morning.

“In the months to come, some Democrats now are promising to use their powerful new perches — and their control of the White House and Congress starting in a matter of days — to proffer the sort of tough new laws and other punishments that tech giants have successfully fended off for years. Their seething anger could result in major repercussions for the industry, opening the door for a wide array of policy changes that could hold Facebook, Google and Twitter newly liable for their missteps.”

  • The companies responded with swift action after the riot: “Facebook has since suspended Trump‘s account indefinitely, and Twitter blocked him from posting for 12 hours, a suspension now lifted. Google, which owns YouTube, joined the other tech giants in announcing policies that resulted in the removal of one of Trump’s earlier videos that repeated falsehoods about the 2020 election even as the president urged rioters at the time to remain calm.”
  • Shopify takes Trump Organization and campaign stores offline. “A Shopify spokeswoman said [Trump] violated the company’s policy, which prohibits retailers on the platform from promoting or supporting organizations or people that promote violence,” WSJ’s Vipal Monga reports. 

Other news:

  • Trump’s remarks before the riot may be investigated: “The top federal prosecutor in D.C. said that Trump was not off-limits in his investigation of the events surrounding the riot, saying ‘all actors’ would be examined to determine if they broke the law,” Devlin Barrett reports.
  • Airlines and flight attendants are concerned about when rioters leave D.C.: “American Airlines and United Airlines have both increased staffing at the DC-area airports where they operate. American is also suspending alcohol service on its flights to and from the region. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, said the rioters should not be allowed on flights home,” CNN’s Pete Muntean, Gregory Wallace, Eric Levenson and Francesca Street report.
  • Beijing is trolling us: “Much of the media coverage focused on connecting the reaction to the mob with the US’s support of the Hong Kong protests, and the apparent hypocrisy of the US political establishment and media in supporting protests in another country but not their own (that comparison is disingenuous given Hong Kong’s protests were a fight for free and fair democratic procedures, while the Trump protests were a denial of them.),” Quartz’s Jane Li & Mary Hui report.

Coronavirus fallout

December jobs report could be weaker.

The year-end covid surge could loom large: “Economists expect 50,000 jobs were added in December, slightly more than a fifth of the 245,000 in November, according to Dow Jones. The unemployment rate is expected to rise slightly to 6.8 percent from 6.7 percent. The report is out at 8:30 a.m.,” CNBC’s Patti Domm reports.

“’I think it’s 50/50 whether it’s going to be up 50,000 or down 50,000. We’re kind of on the knife’s edge between creating additional jobs and the recovery falling back a step,’ said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank.”

  • Weekly unemployment claims remain elevated: “Workers continued to apply for unemployment aid at an elevated level at the end of 2020 and holiday-season demand for imported consumer products pushed the November trade deficit in goods to a record, signs of the uneven economic recovery,” the WSJ’s Eric Morath and Harriet Torry report. “Weekly initial claims for jobless benefits from regular state programs, a proxy for layoffs, fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 787,000 in the week ended Jan. 2, the Labor Department said Thursday. The prior week’s figure was revised up by 3,000.”
More from the U.S.:
  • Another grim day: “On Thursday, more than 4,000 people died of covid-19 in the United States, the first time the toll has exceeded that milestone, following a record day Wednesday of 3,915 deaths. The pandemic has now claimed more than 363,000 lives in the United States. More than 265,000 new coronavirus cases were reported, the second-highest count in a day according to a Washington Post analysis,” Paulina Firozi, 
    Jacqueline Dupree and Meryl Kornfield report.
  • People without symptoms spread covid in more than half of cases: “Fifty-nine percent of all transmission came from people without symptoms, under the Center for Disease Control and Prevention model’s baseline scenario. That includes 35 percent of new cases from people who infect others before they show symptoms and 24 percent that come from people who never develop symptoms at all,” Ben Guarino reports.
  • Some Americans won’t get a stimulus payment until they file their taxes: “The Treasury has paid out about 68 percent of the payments so far, with millions of Americans receiving their $600 via direct deposit or a check in the mail. Yet, some Americans are still waiting to receive their money, and others will not receive any money until they file their 2020 tax return,” Heather Long reports.
From the corporate front:
  • Walgreens maintains full-year profit growth forecast: “The company expects benefits from vaccinations to cushion the impact of pandemic-induced restrictions, and stuck to its full-year earnings growth forecast, sending its shares up 7 percent,” Reuters’s Mrinalika Roy and Dania Nadeem reports.
  • Pandemic may change gyms forever: “Americans spent heavily across all price points, from $3,000 cardio machines to $20 yoga mats … Health and fitness equipment revenue more than doubled, to $2.3 billion, from March to October, according to NPD retail data. Sales of treadmills soared 135 percent while those of stationary bikes nearly tripled, depleting inventories,” Hamza Shaban reports.

Market movers

Stocks soar to record highs.

The Nasdaq cleared the 13,000 mark: “Shares of Microsoft and Alphabet both gained more than 2 percent and Apple rose 3.4 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 211.73 points, or 0.7 percent, to 31,041.13. At one point, the Dow was up more than 300 points. The S&P 500 climbed 1.5 percent to 3,803.79,” CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Maggie Fitzgerald reports.

“It was also the first time the Dow and S&P 500 ended a session above 31,000 and 3,800, respectively.”

Goldman Sachs predicts faster recovery with Democratic trifecta: “The bank upgraded its 2021 GDP and unemployment forecasts after CNN and other media outlets projected Democrats will take control of the US Senate, saying it means they will have enough votes to provide hundreds of billions of dollars of additional relief to an economy being hurt by the worsening pandemic,” CNN Business Matt Egan reports.

“Goldman Sachs is now projecting GDP growth of 6.4 percent in 2021, up from 5.9 percent previously. That’s well above consensus estimates of about 3.9 percent.”

Bitcoin hits $40,000 for the first time: “The world’s most popular cryptocurrency climbed as high as $40,402.46 and was last up 6.1 percent at $39,100. It crossed $30,000 for the first time on Jan. 2 and $20,000 on Dec. 16,” Reuters’s Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and Chuck Mikolajczak report.

“Smaller coins ethereum, the second largest in terms of market capitalization, and XRP, the fourth biggest, gained 1.8 percent at $1,231 and 31 percent at 32 U.S. cents, respectively. Both currencies often move in tandem with bitcoin.”

Trade fly-around

Trade policies have disproportionately harmed Black and Latino workers.

A new study goes beyond the usual focus on the White working class: “Black and Latino workers suffered disproportionate economic harm by corporate offshoring following the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization agreement during the Clinton administration — trends that continued during Trump’s presidency as more manufacturing jobs disappeared, researchers found,” Tracy Jan reports this morning.

“Not only were Black and Latino factory workers more likely to lose their jobs, they were also less likely to find new employment, said the report by Public Citizen, a nonprofit corporate and government watchdog. When they did manage to secure work, they faced larger pay cuts than White workers with similar educational backgrounds.”

  • What might be behind some of this: “Black and Latino workers are overrepresented in the manufacturing sectors hit hardest by trade, including offshoring and imports, such as auto and steel, furniture, textiles and garments, and electrical appliances as well as customer service call centers, the report found. Wages in the manufacturing sectors have also stagnated in the past 25 years.”

Retaliatory tariffs on French goods are suspended for now: “The United States said it would hold off slapping tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other imports in retaliation for a digital services tax Washington says will harm U.S. tech firms, while it investigates similar taxes elsewhere,” Reuters’s Andrea Shalal reports.

“The U.S. Trade Representative’s office (USTR) said the 25 percent tariffs on imports of the French goods, which are valued at around $1.3 billion annually and were due to go into effect on Wednesday, would be suspended indefinitely … USTR said suspending the action against France would allow Washington to pursue a coordinated response in 10 investigations into similar taxes in India, Italy, Britain and other countries. It gave no timeframe for further action.”

Pocket change

Elon Musk is now the world’s richest person.

The Tesla CEO has seen his wealth skyrocket: “A statement that seemed outlandish one year ago became plausible, then almost inevitable as Tesla Inc.’s share price climbed higher and higher in 2020,” Bloomberg News’s Devon Pendleton reports.

“On Thursday it finally happened. The electric-automaker’s shares surged 7.9 percent, boosting Musk past Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 500 wealthiest people. Musk is worth $194.8 billion, or $9.5 billion more than Bezos, whose Blue Origin is a rival to Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Ltd., or SpaceX, in the private space race.” (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

Boeing agrees to pay $2.5 billion over 737 Max conspiracy: “David P. Burns, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said the crashes ‘exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world’s leading commercial airplane manufacturers,’” Ian Duncan, Lori Aratani and Michael Laris report.

“The penalty is a combination of a $244 million fine, $1.77 billion in compensation to Boeing’s customers and a $500 million fund for the families of the crash victims. Boeing admitted that two of its technical pilots deceived federal safety regulators about a software system that was implicated in both crashes.”

Feds are probing AmEx card sales: “The inspectors general offices of the Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Federal Reserve are investigating whether AmEx used aggressive and misleading sales tactics to sell cards to business owners and whether customers were harmed … They are also examining whether specific employees contributed to the alleged behavior and if higher-level employees supported it …,” the WSJ’s AnnaMaria Andriotis report.

“The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is also investigating business-card sales practices at AmEx … More than a dozen current and former AmEx employees previously told The Wall Street Journal that some salespeople strong-armed or misled small-business owners into signing up for cards to boost sales numbers.”

Sheldon Adelson takes medical leave: “The casino magnate and Republican Party megadonor is stepping away from his Las Vegas Sands Corp. for cancer treatment, leaving his company amid economic uncertainty in the global gambling industry due to the pandemic,” the WSJ’s Katherine Sayre reports.

“Adelson, whose family is majority owner of the company, has said his succession plan is for the current executive team, including 25-year Sands veteran Robert Goldstein and Adelson’s son-in-law Patrick Dumont, to lead the company …”

Daybook

  • The Labor Department releases the December jobs report

The funnies

Bull session

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