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Small-business sentiment dips in December



Bloomberg News/Landov

Small businesses say they have trouble finding qualified workers.

The numbers: The index of U.S. small-business optimism from the National Federation of Independent Business declined 2 points to 102.7 in December, the trade group said Tuesday. That was below the consensus forecast of 104.4 from Econoday.

What happened: Six of the 10 index components fell, two improved, and two were unchanged. Economic and sales expectations components both increased, but so did uncertainty. Finding qualified workers remained the top issue for firms.

Big picture: Economists watch NFIB’s capital intentions for clues about the performance of the economy. In December, that component fell 2 points to a reading of 28.

What are they saying? “The dip in capex plans is disappointing but the index is marginally higher than a year ago so it still points to a rebound in capex next spring, though the first quarter likely will be soft,”” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Market reaction: Stocks opened slightly lower on Tuesday as the first major earnings releases of the quarter. The S&P 500 index

SPX, -0.07%

  slipped 8 points in early trading.



Delayed by Abuse Claim, Apple’s ‘The Banker’ Gets New Release Date




After its original rollout plan was scrapped late last year, “The Banker,” a civil rights drama starring Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie, has a new life.

Apple announced on Thursday that the film would be made available to Apple TV Plus subscribers on March 20, with a theatrical release scheduled for March 6.

One of the first feature films to be distributed by Apple, “The Banker” is based on the true story of Bernard Garrett and Joe Morris, a pair of black entrepreneurs who recruited a white man to pose as the face of their business in an effort to work against the racist banking practices of midcentury America.

Apple withdrew the film from the American Film Institute’s annual festival and canceled its Dec. 6 theatrical premiere after Bernard Garrett Jr., a son of one of the film’s protagonists, was accused of sexual misconduct. The younger Mr. Garrett was a co-producer of the film. His name has been removed from the film, and Apple said he would not profit from its release.

The company decided to withdraw “The Banker” after Cynthia Garrett, a daughter of Bernard Garrett, accused the younger Mr. Garrett, her half brother, of sexually abusing her and her younger sister when they were children. Bernard Garrett Jr. has denied the accusations.

“We wanted to take the time to understand the situation at hand,” Apple said in a statement on Thursday. “After reviewing the information available to us, including documentation of the filmmakers’ research, we’ve decided to make this important and enlightening film available to viewers.”

“The Banker” began filming in September 2018 and wrapped two months later. Apple, a newcomer to the entertainment business, bought the worldwide distribution rights for $20 million in June 2019 after executives watched an eight-minute sizzle reel. Before the accusation against Mr. Garrett became public, he was set to help promote the film.

The delay came at a bad time for Apple TV Plus, whose flagship series, the star-studded “The Morning Show,” debuted to mixed reviews in November. “The Banker,” featuring two stars of the blockbuster “Avengers” series, seemed like a way for Apple to prove itself in Hollywood.

Nicole Sperling contributed reporting.


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Trump Fans or Not, Business Owners Are Wary of Warren and Sanders




Beri Fox, president and chief executive of Marble King in Paden City, W.Va., possibly the last American manufacturer of toy marbles, said she had not yet focused on the candidates’ overall plans, just “bits and pieces.”

Making sure American companies can compete with China is a priority for her, said Ms. Fox, who employs 28 people. She hopes that Mr. Trump’s confrontational approach on trade will work in the long run, but also feels that Mr. Biden cares deeply about domestic manufacturers. She has not decided whom to support for president.

For some, the battle for the Democratic nomination is still mostly background noise.

With so many candidates still in contention, “it just doesn’t seem worth my time to pick a heartthrob at this time,” said Rick Woldenberg, chief executive of Learning Resources in Vernon Hills, Ill., a family-owned manufacturer of educational materials and toys.

Mr. Woldenberg’s primary concern is the future of his business, which employs more than 200 people. The 2017 tax cuts engineered by Mr. Trump and his party helped generate more cash for investment, he said, but tariffs on imports have been punishing, raising the cost of materials and straining relations with customers and international vendors.

He also finds the president’s routine combativeness unsettling, not to mention his impeachment.

“I tend to favor politicians who are more moderate in their views,” Mr. Woldenberg said. “And I would not consider Trump to be especially moderate.”

Yet neither are Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, he said. Labeling them “very extreme,” he said that expensive plans like Medicare for all would depress the economy and that a wealth tax would be “catastrophic.”

The generally positive economic outlook, of course, could shift significantly in the coming year. The recent flare-up in tensions between the United States and Iran was a reminder that by the time of the election, international events could eclipse domestic ones.


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Airbnb Imagines a ‘Stakeholder’ World




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Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s co-founder and C.E.O., spoke exclusively to Andrew last night about the company’s announcement today that it will think about all “stakeholders” when it comes to corporate governance, not just investors.

The move is Mr. Chesky’s take on the Business Roundtable’s recommendations last year that companies consider employees, the environment and more in their business decisions.

• Airbnb is planning to hold a “Stakeholder Day.” It would be like a traditional annual shareholder meeting — except that everyone from customers to “hosts” to employees and others will be invited.

• It will also change its compensation program, with factors important to stakeholders like progress on guest safety taken into account when bonuses are calculated.

“I don’t want to be one of those C.E.O.s to say we’re trying to do all this great stuff, but then we treat board meetings exactly like every other board meeting,” Mr. Chesky told Andrew. He added that he doesn’t think this is particularly radical: “I think this is where the world is going.”

The big picture:

• Airbnb remains under fire on a number of fronts, including battles with regulators over housing laws, concerns over the safety of its customers and claims of discrimination by hosts. They’re among the struggles that surround the company’s plans to go public this year.

• It’s unclear whether investors, as one of many groups of stakeholders, will embrace their diminished stature within Airbnb’s universe.

• And it remains to be seen whether the new goals will increase the company’s valuation in its market debut.

Apollo Global Management is one of Wall Street’s biggest private equity firms, managing over $320 billion in assets. Apollo’s success is due in large part to the strategies of its founder, Leon Black, who gets his close-up in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek cover story.

“Black’s aggressive approach — involving layoffs and slashing benefits — is also among the most profitable,” Caleb Melby and Heather Perlberg of Businessweek write. “Apollo’s flagship private equity fund, which it opened to investors in 2001, has delivered annual returns of 44 percent.”

Highlights from Mr. Black’s career include:

• Working with Mike Milken on junk bonds, a term Mr. Black still hates because competitors came up with it: “We were never accepted by the Goldmans and the Morgans and the Kidder Peabodys and the First Bostons.”

• Investing where others wouldn’t dare. “Everybody else is running for the doors, and we’re backing up the trucks,” Mr. Black told Businessweek.

But his biggest problem right now might be his association with Jeffrey Epstein:

• The depths of Mr. Black’s financial ties to the late financier are unknown, but he is known to have given $10 million to Mr. Epstein’s charity and persuaded the financier to invest in a friend’s muffler company.

• “After Epstein was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell a month later, former Apollo employees joked darkly that his death had made Black’s life easier.”

President Trump ribbed a top JPMorgan Chase executive this week when he said her bank should thank him for its stellar earnings. He may have had a point, at least when it comes to his tax cuts, writes Yalman Onaran of Bloomberg.


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