Disney brings the focus back to succession
Things aren’t getting easier for Disney’s Robert Iger, including yet another poor showing at the box office this weekend. So reports that the media giant’s C.E.O. has brought back two former heirs apparent, Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, to advise on the future of Disney’s legacy TV businesses were sure to get Hollywood talking.
It’s not clear what will come of their return to the company, where they were senior executives during Iger’s first stint as chief executive. But their mere presence underscores the amount of work that lies ahead at the House of Mouse.
Mr. Mayer and Mr. Staggs will help Iger think about “linear” TV properties like ABC, according to Puck. The legacy TV division is a business that Wall Street has been focused on since Mr. Iger effectively put a for-sale sign on it this month by saying the unit may not be “core” to the company’s future. A related issue is the fate of ESPN: Mr. Iger has said that the company was seeking a strategic partner for the sports network.
Both men had once been tipped as potential successors to Iger — Mr. Mayer as head of M.&A. and the architect of its streaming strategy; Mr. Staggs as C.F.O. — before leaving as their chances faded. (Mr. Iger chose Bob Chapek to take over, but he was ousted after two years and replaced by … Mr. Iger.) Mr. Mayer and Mr. Staggs now run Candle Media, an investment company that has bought an array of production studios.
Their new assignment renews questions about Iger’s latest plans. Though Disney recently renewed Mr. Iger’s contract until 2026, he remains under pressure to find a successor before then. Disney watchers have already identified potential candidates, including Dana Walden, the company’s co-chair of filmed entertainment, and Josh D’Amaro, its theme parks chief.
One investor focused on succession is Nelson Peltz, who cited the issue as a major concern in his board challenge just after Mr. Iger came back. Though Disney headed off Mr. Peltz’s proxy fight in February, his firm, Trian, still owns about 6.4 million shares in the company, The Times has reported.
Meanwhile, Disney’s box office flops keep piling up. “Haunted Mansion” earned just $24 million in its debut weekend. That was in part because of the actors’ strike, whose ban on promotional activity left the mansion movie unable to gain much buzz for its opening.
“Haunted Mansion” now joins “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and “The Little Mermaid” in a string of expensive Disney movies that failed to live up to expectations this year. (“Elemental,” the latest Pixar release, initially fared poorly but has since made up some ground.)
Expect Mr. Iger to get tough questions on these issues next week when Disney reports earnings. Shares in Disney are down about 14 percent since his return to the C.E.O. seat in November.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
A trucking giant shuts. Yellow, a nearly century-old business once considered so important that the federal government gave it a $700 million pandemic rescue loan, ceased operations yesterday, putting 30,000 jobs at risk. The trucking company struggled with a $1.5 billion debt load and was in a standoff with the Teamsters labor union.
Johnson & Johnson’s plan to limit talc-related legal liabilities fails again. A federal judge rejected the company’s second effort to use a subsidiary’s bankruptcy filing to resolve lawsuits over claims that its talcum powder products caused cancer. The decision imperils a proposed $8.9 billion settlement to resolve most of the litigation; the company said it planned to appeal.
Donald Trump’s $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN is dismissed. A federal judge ruled that statements made on the news network about Mr. Trump were opinion, not assertions of fact. It’s the latest setback for the former president, who is spending millions raised for his presidential campaign on legal fees related to criminal charges against him and creating a defense fund to cover his allies’ bills. But he still leads the race to be the Republican presidential candidate next year.
Twitter’s rebranding to X faces more hiccups. San Francisco officials are investigating the installation of an “X” sign atop the company’s headquarters for lack of proper permits, days after they halted an effort to take down the Twitter name from the building. At least the company was able to change its app’s name in Apple’s App Store to X, overcoming rules that required program titles to have at least two characters.
China’s economy is still misfiring
More disappointing data from China will do little to allay concerns about the world’s second-largest economy, as manufacturing activity contracted for a fourth straight month and a gauge for the services sector fell to its lowest level this year.
That is adding pressure on Beijing to introduce a stimulus package to kick-start a post-pandemic economic recovery — but some analysts warn that China’s high debt levels may make that unlikely.
Economists fear China may be heading for deflation, even as the rest of the world worries about inflation. The Chinese economy grew just 0.8 percent in the second quarter, compared with the previous three months, hurt by weak consumer spending, high youth unemployment and a downturn in real estate.
Overseas demand for Chinese goods, which boomed during the pandemic, also fell as global growth stalled and central banks raised interest rates to combat high inflation.
Officials have already taken some steps to revive growth, as part of their efforts to bolster a “tortuous” recovery. That includes measures announced today to encourage car buying and to improve energy efficiency for rural households.
But the package is a far cry from the kinds of broader fiscal stimulus that markets had wanted. “The problem with these measures is that they are too small to matter,” Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University, wrote on X, because they don’t increase consumption if households still have only a limited amount of money to spend.
Investors are still holding out for a bigger move. Stocks in Hong Kong and mainland China rose on hopes that Beijing would eventually announce something more drastic. “We can only put this down to continued hope that the government will pull something out of the bag that will reinvigorate the economy,” said Robert Carnell, head of Asia-Pacific research at ING.
Appraising “E.S.G. month”
The Republican-led House Financial Services Committee was the front line of a political war in July over environmental, social and governance (E.S.G.) investing. The panel debated a range of proposals targeting government agencies that consider climate change or social issues in their investment decisions.
And while the talk isn’t likely to lead to new laws, the exercise was more than symbolic, given that it aligned with a lot of messaging from Republican presidential candidates.
The proposals included bills to change the proxy voting process, increase congressional oversight of banking regulators, limit S.E.C. disclosure requirements and curtail the agency’s authority over shareholder proposals. Patrick McHenry, the North Carolina Republican who heads the committee, told Politico that the proposals were just the “opening act” of a broader campaign.
But Democrats decried the exercise as “extremist.” Maxine Waters of California, the committee’s top Democrat, urged her colleagues last week to “end your culture wars and stop undermining America.”
The legislation isn’t going to get far in a divided Congress. And Democrats narrowly control the Senate. But the efforts were a warning to federal agencies considering additional climate measures and the bills give state-level lawmakers a blueprint to consider when they think about their own actions.
Republican lawmakers in 37 states have already introduced more than 160 pieces of anti-E.S.G. legislation this year, according to the research firm Pleiades Strategy.
Is one man the most important backer of it all? The fights over investment strategies that are being blasted by Republicans as “woke” are fueled by funding from Consumers’ Research, a group backed by Leonard Leo who is best known for a yearslong push to make federal courts more conservative.
According to the watchdog group Accountable.US, Mr. Leo’s DonorsTrust group has funneled millions to Consumers’ Research’s anti-E.S.G. work. As he told The Times last year: “The idea behind the network and the enterprise we built is to roll back liberal dominance in many important sectors of American life. I had a couple of decades or more of experience rolling back liberal dominance in the legal culture.”
The week ahead
It’s another big week for corporate earnings, as the latest results from tech titans and consumer products giants give further insights into the U.S. economy — as will the latest jobs report.
Tomorrow: Starbucks and Uber report earnings, providing glimpses into the health of consumer spending.
Wednesday: PayPal and Shopify announce results, giving updates on the state of e-commerce. DoorDash also reports.
Thursday: It’s a major day for corporate earnings, with Amazon and Apple on deck from the tech world; Airbnb, Booking Holdings and Hyatt from the travel industry; Moderna and Amgen from the pharmaceuticals sector; and Warner Bros. Discovery from the entertainment world.
Friday: The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes nonfarm payroll data for July. Economists expect the U.S. to have added about 200,000 jobs, with unemployment staying level at about 3.6 percent. The report is sure to weigh on the Fed’s deliberations about borrowing costs, ahead of their next rate-setting meeting in September.
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