Wednesday, March 8

Diary of a day: The Business Roundtable’s John Castellani on anchoring a personal home page, choosing stories, columns and photos of the day.

If I could come back in another profession, I’ve always thought two jobs would be fun because you get to say things undiplomatically: One would be a headline writer for a tabloid newspaper, the other would be the spokesman for a radical country less constrained by diplomatic language than our own. Since I’m neither, I’ll try to explain how our members and the business community see today’s news.

John Castellani
© Financial Times

- The big story of the day remains the House attempt to block the Dubai ports deal. I think business needs to speak up more on this. We intend to do that and others in the business community will get more and more vocal. This issue is very troubling because the US needs foreign investment and we need to invest around the world.

The oddity is most of our ports are already partly run by foreign owned enterprises. There is also confusion about what the role of a port terminal operator is. They have a role in security, but they are not responsible for it.

The backlash is just another iteration of economic isolationism like the outsourcing debate was. This does not bode well for forthcoming trade deals or the independence of the CFIUS process. Our members are very concerned that this will disrupt foreign investment generally. A lot of non-US companies who already own critical infrastructure in the US (or are preparing to, such as Toshiba’s purchase of Westinghouse) must be worrying about this too. It may be an election year, but we hope to remind people what is at stake and how important foreign investment is.

I’d like to flag up two analysis pieces from this morning’s FT on Dubai, and link to the background page of previous stories to remind readers how this ports story has developed.

John Castellani
© Financial Times

- The other big story is oil. There are three stories this morning that show how interrelated this is. One is the Opec meeting and its insistence that Iran must act responsibly and not use oil as a weapon; the other is the UN response to Iran’s nuclear program and the third is Rex Tillerson’s first presentation to analysts as the new chief executive of Exxon, the largest independent oil company. All these stories cut to the heart of why oil is so important to the global economy. The robust economic data out from the Conference Board also reminds us that so far things are holding up pretty well.

The Enron trial remains fascinating. In a bizarre way, it’s very important from the perspective of the business community and rebuilding confidence that corporate wrongdoing is prosecuted, and indeed convicted. It shows the public that the system works. From today’s trial, we should watch out for breaking news later in the day when the defence start questioning Andrew Fastow about yesterday’s testimony. What was interesting is that he did not say much to implicate Ken Lay, so I’m wondering if the defence will want to bring that up. They will also want to undermine his credibility as a witness, so let’s watch to see if they manage to do that. We should take down the overnight Enron story from the website for the time being and replace it as we get new news.

John Castellani
© Financial Times

Two smaller stories that may have passed unnoticed were the shareholder lawsuits against Carly Fiorina’s severance agreement and the AFSCME announcement that it would use the proxy season to pressure compensation committees on executive pay more generally. This is going to be a big issue of this forthcoming proxy season, which will be very active.

The other developing story is the NYSE market debut. This is an historic event that affects businesses everywhere – not just those listed on the market or who own seats. We should try to get a picture of the NYSE ringing its own trading bell – you don’t see that very often.

The other breaking corporate news that resonates well among US and European readers is the EADS results. Because there are only two big world aircraft manufacturers, everyone cares about them and what Airbus is doing tells you a lot about Boeing. Let’s run this morning’s Lex comment on EADS.

John Castellani
© Financial Times

The other interesting economic data are the disappointing US productivity numbers. I suspect they are statistical blip rather than something more serious, but we don’t know yet and this is a hugely important question. Lex also has interesting things to say about this.

We should take down the Google story and replace it with late-breaking Enron news unless Google’s shares continue to fall sharply or the SEC decides to look at their disclosures recently.

To view all four online diaries, click here

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