To China, All’s Fair in Love and Trade Wars

The standard line from President Donald Trump and those who support his get-tough approach toward Beijing is that because China sells more to the U.S. than the other way around, Washington has the upper hand in its game of tariffs. “China buys MUCH less from us than we buy from them,” Trump recently tweeted, “so we are in a fantastic position.”

The intrusive Chinese state has all sorts of levers to control the economy and society, and in an environment that lacks rule of law, officials can pull them at their pleasure. They also have far more targets to aim at than the trade data suggest. Many American companies have substantial operations within China that are tremendously important to their bottom lines. General Motors and its partners, for instance, sold more than 3.6 million vehicles in China last year, almost all of them manufactured locally. Starbucks operates more coffee shops in China than in any other market aside from the United States. These businesses are vulnerable to government-inspired nefariousness, from product boycotts and state-press smear campaigns to regulatory investigations

The Chinese have employed such tactics in the past. In 2017, for instance, China’s government waged an undeclared war against South Korean business over a dispute regarding an American missile-defense system. When Seoul rebuffed Beijing’s demands that it cease deployment of the system—which the Chinese considered a threat to their security—China tried to compel the South Koreans by pressuring their companies and economic interests.

A primary target was Lotte, a Korean conglomerate with interests in candy, hotels, retail, and other businesses. Lotte committed the crime of providing land for the missile system. The Chinese government whipped up nationalist ire against the company through the state-controlled media. One op-ed in the Global Times, a newspaper run by the Communist Party, entitled “Lotte’s Development in China Should Come to an End,” thundered that “showing Lotte the door will be an effective warning to all the other foreign forces that jeopardize China’s national interests.” Protests erupted in front of supermarkets owned by the Korean group, while inspectors ordered outlets closed after supposed violations. Sales plummeted, and Lotte eventually exited from the business. That wasn’t all. Chinese shoppers also shied away from Korean-branded cars and cosmetics. Korean pop stars were denied entry visas; group tours to Seoul for big-spending Chinese travelers were canceled.

Canada is enduring such treatment right now. Angered that Canadian authorities (at the behest of Washington) arrested the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies, Beijing blocked Canada’s exports of pork and canola, pinching the country’s agricultural sector. China has taken this step even though it isn’t in its own economic interest, since its domestic pork industry has been ravaged by swine flu. Similarly, in 2012, Chinese quarantine officers began impounding Philippine bananas amid a flare-up over contested claims in the South China Sea.

 

Booming Buybacks Aren’t Likely to Wane Despite Market Volatility

Repurchases of blockbuster stock amounts during two recent pullbacks signal firms didn’t see market declines as worrying

Companies spend billions repurchasing shares because less stock outstanding helps make their profits appear stronger by boosting per-share earnings—a gauge investors typically use to justify a company’s stock price. Some investors counter that buybacks don’t actually add to a company’s net profit, and the capital could be used on other things.

Apple Inc., Oracle Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. were the biggest buyers of their own stock in 2018, repurchasing a total of $126 billion of shares, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. In April, the iPhone maker said it would add $75 billion to its buyback program.

“We’re in the fortunate position of generating more cash than we need to run our business and invest confidently in our future,” Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said during the company’s earnings call last month.

Some analysts say companies’ willingness to buy back shares has been among the factors driving the latest stages of the 10-year bull market. And companies repurchasing shares during a downturn could help buoy markets.

.. “It takes capital from companies that are buying back their own equity and then moves that capital back to an investor so it can be redeployed into a company that’s growing,” said Scott Colyer, chief executive and chief investment officer at Advisors Asset Management. “Companies tend to amp up their buybacks when their stock price drops, which provides some support in the marketplace.”
.. Some analysts are concerned that technology companies accounted for too big a slice of the buyback pie. Last year, the top 20 companies repurchasing stock in the S&P 500—many of which were tech firms—accounted for 42% of all buybacks, compared with a 32% share in 2017, data from S&P Dow Jones Indices showed.

“The presumption is that 2020 will be a good year for buybacks, but that’s based on expectations that the economy remains strong and we don’t have a trade war,” said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Even though next year is supposed to be a great year for earnings and cash flow, we’re not there yet.”

Washington presents one potential hurdle for companies repurchasing stock. Democratic presidential candidates have signaled that they want to restrict how much stock U.S. companies can buy back, arguing that buybacks enrich shareholders at the expense of workers.

Make Home & End keys behave like Windows on Mac OS X

I’ve been using Mac OS X daily since 2001 when I purchased my Titanium PowerBook and I still can’t get used the home and end key behavior.

If, like me, you want Home to send you to the start of the line and not to the top of the document then create a file called DefaultKeyBinding.dict in your ~/Library/KeyBindings folder (might need to create that folder too) with the following contents:

{
  "\UF729"  = moveToBeginningOfParagraph:; // home
  "\UF72B"  = moveToEndOfParagraph:; // end
  "$\UF729" = moveToBeginningOfParagraphAndModifySelection:; // shift-home
  "$\UF72B" = moveToEndOfParagraphAndModifySelection:; // shift-end
  "^\UF729" = moveToBeginningOfDocument:; // ctrl-home
  "^\UF72B" = moveToEndOfDocument:; // ctrl-end
  "^$\UF729" = moveToBeginningOfDocumentAndModifySelection:; // ctrl-shift-home
  "^$\UF72B" = moveToEndOfDocumentAndModifySelection:; // ctrl-shift-end
}

This remapping does the following in most Mac apps including Chrome (some apps do their own key handling):

  • Home and End will go to start and end of line
  • ShiftHome and ShiftEnd will select to start and end of line
  • CtrlHome and CtrlEnd will go to start and end of document
  • ShiftCtrlHome and ShiftCtrlEnd will select to start and end of document

Note that you will need to reboot after creating this file for it to take effect.

If you have a PC keyboard with LED back-lighting and would like the scroll-lock, num-lock or caps-lock LEDs on when using your Mac check out my free SetLEDs for Mac