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What Michael Bloomberg means for the 2020 Democratic primary

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First, he would very much like to be president — and has flirted with running multiple times over the past decade.

Second, he is not someone who wastes money or time on flights of fancy.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s candidacy isn’t in a particularly good place these days. Yes, Biden still holds a lead in an aggregate of national polling. But, national polling matters less as we get closer to actual votes in states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

And in polling in both of those states, Biden has fallen behind Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and is in danger of dropping behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, too.

That’s bad news when you are, like Biden, the best known candidate in the contest. Ask yourself this: If voters in Iowa or New Hampshire aren’t for Biden yet — after eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president and 30+ years in the Senate — then why are they suddenly going to decide they are for him in the 3-ish months between now and the Iowa caucuses?

Compounding Biden’s problems is his inability to stay financially competitive with Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. That trio all ended September with north of $20 million in the bank (Sanders had $33 million) while Biden had less than $9 million in the bank. That sort of cash deficit means Biden will simply not be able to match his rivals on TV (and organizationally) once the race moves beyond the first four states. (A super PAC supporting Biden has cropped up to try to address that deficit.)

With Biden showing all the signs of flagging, the obvious candidate who would benefit is Buttigieg, who has positioned himself in that same pragmatic lane as the former Vice President. And, there are signs — particularly in Iowa — that Buttigieg is starting to move upward.

Monmouth poll shows tight race for Democratic nomination
But, there are also doubts about whether or not the establishment wing of the Democratic Party wants to latch itself to a 37-year-old whose biggest job to date has been as mayor of his hometown. Those doubts are centered on the idea that Buttigieg simply cannot beat Warren for the nomination, leaving the party with its most liberal nominee in decades and risking the very real possibility of a 2nd term for President Donald Trump.

Enter Bloomberg! An establishment darling with a long record of centrist policy-making — and he just happens to be a billionaire many times over!

There is no question that Bloomberg’s willingness to step into this race — or at least make preparations to do so — is rooted, primarily, in Biden’s perceived struggles. A strong Biden would make a Bloomberg candidacy virtually impossible given that the very same establishment types who have undoubtedly been whispering in Bloomberg’s ear were once whispering those same sweet nothings in Biden’s ear.

Now, that is not to say that Biden and Bloomberg are interchangeable. They aren’t. In fact, at least on paper, Biden is stronger — largely because he has a demonstrated constituency among working class and minority voters. It’s hard to see how Bloomberg would, at least initially, have any obvious appeal to either of those groups. (Honestly, it’s not at all clear to me what Bloomberg’s “natural” constituency is beyond people who watch “Morning Joe” and ride Amtrak’s Acela between New York and DC.)

Bloomberg’s candidacy is born of the perceived weakness of Biden’s run — and the fear of what a rising Warren would mean for Democratic chances next November. That, Bloomberg believes, has created a realistic opportunity for him to wind up as the nominee — or at least to have a very real chance at winning.

Of course, opportunities may be less than they initially appear — or disappear before you can seize on them. The question for Bloomberg is whether he’s got enough time to turn that window of opportunity into something much larger.



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E-Trade shares fall on disappointment it’s not the one being bought by Charles Schwab

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Pedestrians walk outside an E*Trade Financial office in New York.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Retail broker E-Trade appears to have just lost the most recent battle in the brokerage wars.

E-Trade shares fell more than 8% on Thursday after sources told CNBC that brokerage giant Charles Schwab is in talks to buy TD Ameritrade, leaving investors worried about E-Trade’s future.

“I think a bit of a surprise this morning in terms of the players,” said Devin Ryan, managing director or equity research at JMP Securities. “The market wasn’t anticipating the Schwab-Ameritrade combination, I think people were more looking at who would be buying E-trade.”

Shares of Schwab are up 6% and shares of TD Ameritrade are up 18%.

While Goldman Sachs, who has been beefing up its retail banking business in recent years, CFO Stephen Scherr said in June that the bank would be active in so-called bolt-on acquisitions, a person with knowledge of Goldman’s situation said it was unlikely they would purchase E-Trade.

“This will certainly put pressure on ETFC to find its own partner,” said Don Bilson of Gordon Haskett research advisers in a note to clients on Thursday.

To be sure, E-Trade still looks like an attractive acquisition target as the company has a large deposits business, said Ryan.

“E-trade still would be attractive to both kind of the obvious firms out there, like Schwab or Ameritrade, or potentially others as well,” said Ryan. “Consolidation makes sense today, I think it will make sense in the future.” But Ryan said Schwab will have its “hands full for while,” with the TD Ameritrade acquisition.

The reportedly $25 billion imminent deal between Schwab and TD Ameritrade will create a “Goliath in Wealth Management” according to Wells Fargo’s Mike Mayo, with more than $5 trillion in combined assets. The industry consolidation came as no surprise to investors, following massive disruption in the space after all of the major brokers dropped commission fees in recent months.

Non-broker?

While Goldman Sachs said it is an unlikely buyer, its not impossible another bank looking to beef up its retail business snatches up E-Trade. Especially as the broker’s stock down nearly 20% in the past 12 months, which would give a buyer a major discount.

“With the obvious candidates now spoken for…ETFC could end up with someone who isn’t necessarily an online broker,” said Bilson.

Ryan of JMP said a bank that is pushing into consumer finance could benefit from E-Trade’s very strong deposit base, which generates about $60 billion in deposits each quarter.

“A bank that is able to leverage that and generate stronger net interest income off of their customers, I think that could be quite attractive,” said Devin Ryan, managing director or equity research at JMP Securities.

Less cost synergies

The downside to an acquisition from a bank is less “expense synergies” than there would be from a merger with a traditional broker, said Ryan. The advantage to the Schwab-TD Ameritrade deal is the brokerage giant will be able to cut costs and stream new revenue opportunities. There will also be an opportunity to improve the platform for clients.

“Given the high amount of overlapping back-office operations and vendor costs, we would expect to see about 60% of AMTD’s costs removed,” said Stephen Biggar, Argus Research Director of Financial Institutions Research. Merging with a giant bank would remove some of those cost-cutting advantages.

What most of Wall Street agrees on is E-Trade needs to make some sort of deal.

“Over time, if firms are left out, it could create some pressure on those stocks, and as the distribution platforms become larger, it could also create a bit more pressure for the asset management industry,” said Bank of America research analyst Michael Carrier in a note to clients on Thursday.

E-Trade did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

—with reporting from CNBC’s Hugh Son, Kate Rooney and Michael Bloom.



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British Airways flights are being delayed due to a ‘technical issue’

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An unknown number of British Airways flights have been delayed in what the airline has blamed on a “technical issue.”

The social media team of the airline took to Twitter late Wednesday in an attempt to reassure passengers that steps were being taken to accommodate passengers affected by delays and cancellations.

On its website, British Airways also warned passengers that while it still planned to operate a full schedule on Thursday “there may be some knock-on delays to flights.”

The U.K. flag carrier has suffered a series of bruising jabs to its reputation in recent months, including at least two computer failures, a pilot strike and a massive data breach.

Shares in British Airways parent company, International Airlines Group, slipped around 1% on Thursday morning. The share price is more than 14% lower on a 12-month basis.

One customer claimed on Twitter that while stuck on the tarmac in San Jose, California, late Thursday, the pilot had warned passengers that the “entire flight planning system is down.”

In an emailed response to CNBC, the airline declined to elaborate on the nature of the problem but firmly rejected any suggestion that any of its systems had been hacked.



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Senate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown sending it to Trump

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The Senate passed a bill Thursday to dodge a government shutdown for another month ahead of a midnight deadline.

The measure now heads to President Donald Trump, who barring a change of heart is set to sign it into law. The Senate approved it in a 74-20 vote. 

The Democratic-held House passed it on Tuesday by a 231-192 margin, seeing considerably more Republican opposition than the GOP-controlled Senate did.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

The legislation holds government funding at current levels through Dec. 20, setting up yet another appropriations showdown. Funding will lapse Friday if the president does not approve the spending bill.

The measure gives the House and Senate a few extra weeks to hash out a long-term spending deal. Lawmakers failed to strike an agreement before funding ran out this week amid another dispute over border security funding.

Earlier this year, Congress passed a two-year deal to set budget levels and suspend the U.S. debt ceiling. The House and Senate have struggled to decide how specifically to allocate the money to federal departments.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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