This morning I heard Bryan Williams (of all people) say that today is “one of the busiest news days” since the election. I suppose that’s true if you butter your bread in the cable news game. But while much of the press corps prefers to discuss secretive and probably imaginary meetings in Prague of whatever bits of dirt they can dig up on the cabinet nominees, there have been some other things happening. Ever since Donald Trump was elected there’s been a not always quiet undercurrent of concern flowing through companies who do a lot of outsourcing or build factories in other countries. Having seen what’s happened to some of their competitors, CEOs are becoming worried about the President Elect calling them out for being unamerican and many have begun modifying their plans or at least making contingency preparations. (Reuters)
Some U.S. companies are reviewing potential mergers while others are rethinking job cuts or looking at their manufacturing operations in China for fear of being cast as “anti-American” by President-elect Donald Trump, according to Wall Street bankers, company executives and crisis management consultants.
Having seen some of America’s largest companies, including General Motors Co (GM.N), Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and United Technologies Corp (UTX.N), bluntly and publicly rebuked by Trump on Twitter, many others are worried they may be his next target – especially if they have significant overseas manufacturing, have had U.S. job cuts or price increases for consumers.
“Any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. without retribution or consequence is WRONG!” Trump, who assumes office on Jan. 20, tweeted in December.
This article contains some remarkable interviews with people in companies who have not yet made announcements about repatriating jobs or increasing investments in US operations, some of whom preferred to speak on background. White Mountains Insurance Group had been in talks to structure an “inversion” deal where they would move their headquarters overseas for a more favorable tax position. That proposal fell apart in late November, largely because buyers were quoted as saying that they feared the move would be portrayed as unamerican. The CEO of Fitbit, which does it’s manufacturing in China, is quoted as saying that his company is looking at “contingeny plans” right now. Other business leaders told Reuters that they have set up special programs to monitor Trump’s Twitter feed so they can be prepared to answer if he comes after them, even while they prepare to invest more in the United States.
Ford scrapped that plant in Mexico at an awfully convenient looking time and now we’ve learned that Fiat is preparing to invest a billion dollars in plants in Michigan and Ohio and has pledged to hire 2,000 new American workers. It’s almost as if an entirely new “Trump practice” (as Reuters describes it) is taking hold in corporate boardrooms across America and it’s leading to a philosophy which balances maximizing profits against sustaining an America First image.
Corporate leaders, say the advisers, can no longer focus only on maximizing shareholder value; they must now also weigh national interest.
“CEOs are talking to their boards saying we’ve got to be viewed pro-America. If something is more on the margin – like layoffs, or moving manufacturing, then they are not going to do it,” said one Fortune 500 CEO, who said he had spoken with other U.S. companies.
I think I’ve written about this here in the past and I know I’ve brought it up on social media, but this is the question I can’t help but keep coming back to. Was really this easy the whole time? And if so, why did nobody else think to do it? There are no new laws on the books forcing this to happen. Heck… Trump hasn’t even been sworn in yet and Congress hasn’t begun to take up any of his promised legislative goals. These are just business leaders who are taking the national temperature and responding accordingly. Rather than big government regulatory moves, this is an example of the laws of capitalism in action.
Is the Trump Effect real? It’s still too soon to say. But if you’re in the camp which seeks to dismiss anything which could be seen as positive about Trump’s victory, the evidence seems to be getting harder and harder to ignore.
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