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A bleak message reverberates in Davos
An influential financier warned investors in a letter to pay heed to growing risks and social tensions — and the message is already resonating at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Andrew writes in his column.
In his annual letter, Seth A. Klarman, the billionaire investor who runs the Baupost Group hedge fund, warns that social and political division risks economic calamity:
“It can’t be business as usual amid constant protests, riots, shutdowns and escalating social tensions.”
His message is likely to encourage hand-wringing of a sort usually seen in Davos, Andrew writes.
Mr. Klarman says mounting debt in developed countries since the 2008 financial crisis could lead to a financial panic. He is especially worried about the debt load in the United States:
“There is no way to know how much debt is too much, but America will inevitably reach an inflection point whereupon a suddenly more skeptical debt market will refuse to continue to lend to us at rates we can afford. By the time such a crisis hits, it will likely be too late to get our house in order.”
Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin and Stephen Grocer in New York, and Tiffany Hsu and Gregory Schmidt in Paris.
China’s economy expands at its slowest pace
The world’s second largest economy grew 6.6 percent last year, the Chinese government said on Monday — its most sedate pace in nearly three decades. The slowdown intensified in the last three months of 2018, and the official jobless rate increased to 4.9 percent last month from 4.8 percent in November.
Economists tend to be skeptical about official data from Beijing, but there’s been an onslaught of evidence recently for weakness in the Chinese economy, brought on by crushing debt, a bitter trade fight with the U.S. and evolving business norms.
Factory jobs are no longer desirable, leading manufacturers to try automation, according to the NYT. Ford Motor assembly plants in Chongqing are slowing production. Chinese exporters have delayed hiring plans.
And China’s securities industry last year suffered its first annual decline in head count since 2014. Bonuses are likely to shrink, too.
Officials around the world are sounding the alarm:
• Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s commissioner for trade, said that European investment in China was declining, because doing business there was “becoming increasingly complicated.”
• Heng Swee Keat, the finance minister of Singapore, a nation heavily reliant on international trade, said at the World Economic Forum that trade friction between China and the U.S. could have a “very negative” effect on the global economy.
• President Xi Jinping of China said on Monday that his Communist Party faced “sharp and serious dangers”:
The party is facing long-term and complex tests in terms of maintaining long-term rule, reform and opening-up, a market-driven economy, and within the external environment.
I.M.F. expects a ‘serious slowdown’
The International Monetary Fund brought a chill to this week’s down-jacketed procession of world leaders, cutting its global economic growth forecasts.
The fund expects weakness in Europe, a slowdown in China, a possible no-deal Brexit and trade spats sustained by the U.S. to lead to 3.5 percent growth in 2019 and 3.6 percent growth in 2020, down from October’s forecasts.
“Risks are rising” after two years of “solid expansion,” said Christine Lagarde, its managing director. She added:
“Does that mean a global recession is around the corner? No. But the risk of a sharper decline in global growth has certainly increased.”
More on the global outlook:
• Central banks are grappling with how to use verbal cues and other hints to signal their plans as conditions get tougher.
• Some 30 percent of business leaders expect global expansion to slow — six times the number who felt that way a year ago, according to a survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers. It found 37 percent of North American executives optimistic, down from 63 percent last year.
• But in what Matt Phillips called “a remarkable turnaround,” stocks have surged in the first few weeks of the year after a substantial plunge at the end of 2018. Buoyed by assurances from the Federal Reserve, it is the market’s best start to a year since 1987.
Shutdown Day 32: Rejected proposals and old habits
As a flash freeze arrived in the Midwest and the Northeast, the shutdown continued to weigh on the homeless, the elderly, veterans, low-income renters and many others.
Democrats, who have refused to negotiate until the government is reopened, rejected a proposal from President Trump on Saturday to exchange temporary protections for some immigrants for $5.7 billion for a border wall. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, called it “hostage taking.”
In response, Mr. Trump complained that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has behaved “irrationally,” and then took a shot at San Francisco, which she represents. The bulk of Republican senators have fallen in line behind his proposal, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, is said to be incorporating the terms into a broader package.
Mr. Trump’s behavior feels familiar, write Russ Beuttner and Maggie Haberman:
As he did during decades in business, Mr. Trump has insulted adversaries, undermined his aides, repeatedly changed course, extolled his primacy as a negotiator and induced chaos.
More shutdown news:
• Companies unable to finalize approval for initial public offerings are trying to move ahead with workarounds.
• Hours before the shutdown began, Mr. Trump signed a bipartisan criminal justice bill. Implementation is likely to be delayed.
• The stock market is one of Mr. Trump’s favorite indicators of his administration’s success. But at times, the going’s been bumpy.
Brinkmanship over Brexit
After her Brexit plan was defeated, Prime Minister Theresa May returned to Parliament yesterday with a Plan B. It looked a lot like Plan A, writes Stephen Castle, setting the stage for another battle with rebellious lawmakers.
The proposal: Mrs. May promised to negotiate changes that many regard as cosmetic.
The strategy: She appeared to double down on her gamble that lawmakers will eventually hold their noses and vote for her plan, rather than risk a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all.
The response: Frustration. The process is more or less where it has been for months, with Mrs. May locked in a game of brinkmanship as the clock ticks down.
More Brexit news: Britain’s main opposition party is backing a proposal that could open the door to a second referendum. The European Union is increasing its efforts to avoid market chaos if there’s no deal. Companies buying British assets are having to find financing in euros or dollars, if they can find it at all. Two trading platforms are moving out of London. There’s been violence in Northern Ireland. Britain’s statistics agency could find no evidence for a claim that Brexit is making food companies shrink their products. And the billionaire founder of the Citadel hedge fund spent nearly $123 million on a property near Buckingham Palace.
The chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, Philip Hampton, will step down as the drugmaker breaks itself up. (FT)
Peter Plumb, the chief executive of the food delivery app Just Eat, is departing. (FT)
The speed read
• Two private equity firms are said to be preparing a joint bid of about $7 billion for Nestle’s skin health business. (Reuters)
• Takeda Pharmaceutical may sell some emerging-market drugs to cut debt after its $62 billion takeover of Shire. (Bloomberg)
• Patek Philippe, the 180-year-old Swiss watchmaker, could be sold for as much as $10 billion, analysts said. (Bloomberg)
• OneWeb, the wireless broadband start-up backed by SoftBank and Virgin, plans to launch six satellites next month. (FT)
• France fined Google $57 million for breaching rules on warning users how it handles data. (NYT)
• Amazon’s advertising business is now worth $125 billion, bigger than Nike or IBM. (NYT)
• Tata Power wants to set up electric vehicle chargers in Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities. (Bloomberg)
• As the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has worked hard to win over Europeans, security concerns are undermining that. In response, its chief executive is becoming more willing to give interviews. (NYT, Reuters)
• China’s mobile users accounted for 40 percent of the $101 billion spent globally on apps in 2018. (CNBC)
Politics and policy
• The Trump administration’s agreement to lift sanctions on the business empire of the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska would let him pay off substantial debts, a confidential document shows. (NYT)
• BuzzFeed News faces scrutiny over a report that President Trump instructed Michael D. Cohen to lie to Congress, which prompted a rare denial from Robert Mueller, the special counsel. (NYT)
Best of the rest
• Neri Oxman, a professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab, and William Ackman, the chief executive of Pershing Square Capital Management, were married on Saturday. (NYT)
• Investors are increasing their cash holdings at the fastest clip in a decade. (WSJ)
• Several stock-price crashes have dinged the reputation of Hong Kong’s $3.8 trillion market, which has been seen as a Chinese exchange with Western-style safeguards. (WSJ)
• Housing prices in Hong Kong have dropped recently, but for the ninth year in a row, the market is still the least affordable in the world. (FT)
• “You,” a series about stalking, has become a hit on Netflix. A few months ago, when it was playing on Lifetime, few people had heard of it. (NYT)
• J.C. Penney is struggling to avoid same the fate as Sears. And its turnaround strategy keeps changing. (WSJ)
• The Swiss bank UBS recorded a profit increase in 2018, but missed analyst estimates because of struggles at its wealth management division. (CNBC)
• A nameless, secretive traders’ club promises to let investors “make high-level trades not available to stupid amateurs.” Admission costs $25 million. (Bloomberg)
• All internet gambling that involves interstate transactions, not just sports betting, is now illegal, the Justice Department says. (Bloomberg)
• The United Nations-backed Green Climate Fund is struggling to regain credibility, raise money and find new leadership after a board meeting collapsed last summer. (FT)
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