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The Key Issues for Business in a Likely Trump-Biden Rematch

The Key Issues for Business in a Likely Trump-Biden Rematch

After beating Nikki Haley in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Donald Trump reaffirmed his position as the leading candidate to win the Republican nomination. That has business leaders facing the possibility of another Trump presidency, and their investors trying to figure out what it could mean for their bottom lines.

The questions are, perhaps not surprisingly, coming from seemingly every corner of the economy.

During Blackstone’s quarterly earnings call on Thursday, an analyst wanted to know if uncertainty over who would win a likely Biden-Trump matchup could freeze deal flow. (“I’d say transaction activity is going to be more tied to the Fed’s activities,” said Jonathan Gray, the company’s president and chief operating officer.)

Elsewhere, on a call with the financial services company Bread, an analyst wondered out loud whether a second Trump administration might overturn a proposed rule on credit card late fees. (“Hope is not a strategy,” the company’s C.E.O., Ralph Andretta, replied.) And Jeff Arnold, the chief executive of the digital health company Sharecare, responded to a question at a conference about whether the election could threaten the Affordable Care Act. (“At the end of the day, do you think he’s going to be more interested in attacking the A.C.A. or something else?” he said of a potential Trump presidency. “ I think it’s probably going to be something else.”)

The November election is still many months away, and executives are certainly not eager to talk about it. “Most business leaders are trying to stay away from politics, particularly in this presidential election year, as much as possible,” said Lori Esposito Murray, the president of the Committee for Economic Development at the Conference Board.

But here are some of the key issues that are at the top of their minds.

On some topics, neither Trump nor President Biden has the answer that businesses want. In a survey of about 1,200 C-suite executives by the Conference Board, the executives said their biggest risk was the rising national debt. While Haley has made reducing government spending part of her campaign, neither Trump nor Biden has made it a priority. “I don’t think there’s a candidate that is particularly encouraging on that issue,” Murray said.

On corporate taxes, a second Trump administration would most likely have less effect than the first, which signed into law a cut to the corporate tax rate, to 21 percent from 35 percent, said Andy Laperriere, the head of U.S. policy at Piper Sandler. “I think it’s going to be a big enough challenge just to extend the individual tax cuts that are in place today that expire at the end of 2025,” he said.

Trump has vowed to shake up trade — but how? Biden has kept many of the Trump administration’s tariffs in place. He has restricted the sale of some technology to China, and he is considering new protectionist measures to help U.S. companies compete with Beijing. Trump has proposed much further-reaching trade policies, like putting a 10 percent tariff on all imports.

“There’ll be a lot of uncertainty about how this is going to work out,” Laperriere said. “Do we get this 10 percent tariff across the board? Does he really have authority to do that? Does he try to do that? Does he just withdraw from the World Trade Organization?” He added, “I do think that what investors should bet on is that Trump is serious about all this. “

Climate incentives may be under threat. It would take congressional action to make wholesale changes to Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which set aside $370 billion in spending and tax credits for renewable energy investments. Jeff Navin, who was a deputy chief of staff at the Department of Energy during the Obama administration and co-founded the government affairs firm Boundary Stone Partners, said a Republican administration (even one that previously rolled back more than 100 climate rules, as Trump’s did) was unlikely to spend the political capital required to do that. “I don’t see people campaigning on it,” he said.

Another factor that may make repealing the I.R.A. a low priority: Most of its renewable energy investments are flowing to red states.

Even so, federal agencies, which are directed by the White House, could interfere with the law’s implementation, for example by holding back loans or changing the eligibility requirements for grants. “They’re going to go kind of provision by provision and attack things,” Navin said of a potential Republican administration. Some companies that benefit from the I.R.A. face more risk than others. “The politics around clean energy power production deployment are very different than the politics around solar manufacturing, which are very different than the politics around electric vehicles,” Navin said.

Uncertainty is on the ballot. In the Conference Board survey, geopolitical conflict ranked high in the list of U.S. executives’ top risks. War in the Middle East came in third, the war in Ukraine spilling over into a broader NATO conflict came in fifth, and a takeover of Taiwan by mainland China came in sixth. “Both Biden and Trump pose a lot of risks to the markets that historically we just haven’t seen,” said Laperriere. He added, “I think with Trump, risks are higher in terms of trade and geopolitical instability.”

Closer to home, Trump faces several lawsuits and 91 felony charges. He has continued to make baseless claims that elections have been rigged, which poses another kind of risk to businesses. “Democracy is so critical to a free-market economy,” Murray said. “They really are enmeshed as one.” — Sarah Kessler

Jack Ma is buying shares in Alibaba. The co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce behemoth has been purchasing stock in the company, whose share price has plunged since its 2020 peak. Ma has largely disappeared from public view after criticism of the Chinese authorities prompted a regulatory crackdown on his empire and the wider tech sectors.

The F.T.C. goes after Big Tech’s A.I. start-up deals. The regulator announced that it would investigate multibillion-dollar investments by Microsoft, Amazon and Google in OpenAI and Anthropic. Lina Khan, the F.T.C. chair, said the close relationships could hamper innovation and damage consumers, even though they are not acquisitions but investments.

Netflix and the W.W.E. do a $5 billion streaming deal. The entertainment company agreed a $5 billion deal to air “Raw,” the W.W.E.’s weekly live show. A Netflix co-C.E.O., Ted Sarandos, said the agreement did not mean the company would push into live sports broadcasting, as other tech companies have done. Separately, Vince McMahon resigned as executive chairman of W.W.E.’s parent group after a former employee accused him of sexual assault and sex trafficking.

A frenzy of dealmaking by oil giants this autumn put tiny Guyana in the spotlight, Vivienne Walt writes for DealBook. The South American nation is home to gargantuan oil reserves that Exxon Mobil and Chevron, which both report fourth-quarter earnings next week, are betting will transform the economics of Big Oil.

But suddenly, those bets look more risky. Last month, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s president, ordered about 6,000 troops to Guyana’s border, vowing to seize two-thirds of the country, including its oil fields. “We are warriors,” he declared.

Fearing that a conflict could erupt, Britain moved a warship close to Exxon’s drilling site, and the marine insurer Lloyd’s added the offshore oil installations in a Guyanese special economic zone to its list of highest-risk shipping zones. Maduro, who faces re-election this year, said oil and gas exploration should begin “immediately.”

A military clash in Guyana would have global consequences. Tapping the nation’s vast oil reserves 10 years ago was “the most significant discovery in the modern era,” said Schreiner Parker, Latin America managing partner for Rystad Energy, a consulting firm. He said that with existing finds alone, Guyana could produce more than 1.8 million barrels a day by 2033. That would make it the world’s 11th biggest oil producer and would effectively undo some of the efforts by OPEC heavyweights like Saudi Arabia to keep supplies tight and prices high.

An added factor: Guyanese oil would be cheaper to produce than Russian crude or American shale. And the fuel is less carbon intensive to extract, making it especially valuable as governments and businesses step up their net zero efforts.

Exxon has been burned by geopolitics in the region before. In 2007, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela seized most of the country’s reserves, initiating a dispute that bounced around international courts for years.

The company is confident about Guyana. “We are not going anywhere,” a company spokesperson, Michelle Gray, told DealBook in an email. Some experts say that Maduro’s threats are most likely just election-year bluster. “Any move to go after Guyana’s assets would ensure a very tough response from the United States,” said Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets and a former C.I.A. analyst. “Venezuela would also face significant economic repercussions.”

But Guyana’s president is concerned. “We are not taking this for granted at all,” President Irfaan Ali told DealBook from the capital, Georgetown. “We are very concerned about the rhetoric of war that can destabilize our region,” he said.

More than a dozen exploration blocks in the country are under negotiation — which suggests that companies are ruling out war, Ali said. But, he added, “the threats of war have already affected the cost of insurance or shipping for us here in Guyana.” He met Maduro last month to try to defuse tensions.

Guyana is playing hardball in negotiations with oil giants, extracting 10 percent royalties (as opposed to the 2 percent royalties in its current deal with Exxon) and adding a new 10 percent corporate tax. And Ali is busy tamping down expectations at home, where citizens are dreaming of overnight riches. He said billions were needed for schools, clinics, roads and agriculture and to climate-proof coastal communities. The challenge is convincing people that while the country is now rich, fiscal discipline is essential.

“We have to build in long-term thinking,” Ali said.

Richard Bove has been a banking analyst for 54 years, providing his view in forthright terms that some of his targets haven’t liked. Now, at the age of 83, Bove is retiring with a parting shot at the U.S. economy and his peers, The Times’ Rob Copeland writes.

“The dollar is finished as the world’s reserve currency,” Bove said. China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy, he continued, and no other analyst will admit it because they are dependent on the existing financial system. They are “monks praying to money,” he said, unwilling to criticize a setup that has made them rich.

Wall Street’s leaders were divided on their view of his pronouncements. Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan Chase boss, found Bove’s work “insightful.” Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan didn’t and refused to speak to him for a decade after Bove criticized his move into investment banking.

“I’ve liked to be a pain in the ass at times,” he said. “A lot of the time.”

Thanks for reading! We’ll see you Monday.

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