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Is China’s Era of High Growth Over?

China announced an official growth target of about 5 percent on Tuesday that’s already looking hard to pull off. The world’s second-biggest economy is facing headwinds, from a consumer slowdown to weak investor confidence and a trade war with the West.

But the growth target only tells part of the story of how Beijing is rethinking economic policy.

Left out of the pronouncements: a stimulus package. Investors watch the annual gathering of the National People’s Congress, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, and a parallel meeting of China’s top policy body, for clues on the government’s priorities. Spending is set to remain at roughly last year’s level, suggesting that there’s no big-bang boost on the horizon.

That’s not great news for Western brands that have ridden a surge in Chinese consumer spending to big growth in recent years. Apple reportedly has seen its Chinese iPhones sales plummet this year.

The growth target matches last year’s too, when the post-lockdown economy grew 5.2 percent. (Some analysts say the real growth rate is much lower.) Global investors need to accept that slow growth is the new norm, says Yu Jie, a senior fellow on China at Chatham House, a think tank. “Beijing wants to draw a line under the past economic model which focused on infrastructure and property,” she told DealBook.

Beijing’s real focus is reshaping the economy. The government knows that it faces a raft of challenges, but China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is trying to move away from debt-fueled sectors like property and move toward strategically important industries. The terms it uses are “high-quality development” and “new productive forces,” which includes electric vehicles, climate tech, life sciences, and artificial intelligence. The latest measures to achieve that: Premier Li Qiang, China’s second-highest official, said on Tuesday that the government would increase spending for science and technology research by 10 percent.

More state-led investment is the priority, rather than “other kinds of more politically painful reforms,” George Magnus, a research associate at Oxford University’s China Center and a former chief economist at UBS, told DealBook.

It may also mean more pressure on private businesses to toe the party line, with even bankers being ordered to be more patriotic and develop a “financial culture with Chinese characteristics.”

Donald Trump is expected to win big in Super Tuesday contests. Voters in 15 states, including California and Texas, are headed to the polls. A sweeping Trump victory in Republican primaries could force Nikki Haley to drop out. Elsewhere, the outspoken billionaire Mark Cuban endorsed President Biden in the general election, and supporters of the No Labels third-party initiative worry that the group is no longer politically viable.

The White House takes on “corporate rip-offs.” The Biden administration said on Tuesday that it was forming a “strike force” to coordinate federal efforts to combat “unfair and illegal pricing.” It’s part of Biden’s effort to pin rising prices — a voter concern that is costing him politically — in part on greedy companies, a topic sure to resurface during his State of the Union address on Thursday.

Nelson Peltz publishes his full case against Disney. The activist investor shared his white paper outlining his recommendations for turning around the media giant; among them are finding a partner for Disney’s broadcast TV assets and scrapping plans to introduce a new ESPN streaming service that would supersede ESPN+. Peltz’s 133-page dossier comes less than a month before Disney shareholders vote on whether to give him control of two board seats.

European antitrust authorities have finally taken on Apple, fining the iPhone maker $2 billion for trying to thwart competition in music streaming. A bigger test of the E.U.’s ability to constrain tech giants is still to come.

On Thursday, the Digital Markets Act, intended to ensure competition across popular digital platforms, will come into force. But skeptics think that tech behemoths like Apple will find ways to avoid being hemmed in.

The D.M.A. represents an aggressive effort to police digital competition. Monday’s fine covered the narrow issue of Apple moving to thwart rivals like Spotify in music streaming. The new law is supposed to prevent “gatekeepers” of major platforms — including Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta — from using their market power to lock out new entrants.

The cost of not complying is steep: D.M.A. offenders could be forced to pay up to 10 percent of their global revenue, or up to 20 percent for repeated violations.

Apple says it will comply with the law, offering multiple options to app developers that it says could reduce their fees. Several involve paying Apple a per-download fee once their apps hit a million downloads a year.

But critics say Apple has sought to skirt the new rules. In the Netherlands and South Korea, both of which adopted legislation that required app store owners to allow alternative payment systems, the iPhone maker agreed to open up its app store. But it began charging a 26 percent commission to those using non-Apple payment methods, a move that the Korean government said undermined its law.

In a letter to the European Commission published last week, three dozen companies argued that Apple was taking a similar approach to the D.M.A. “Apple has a history of skirting these rules,” Daniel Ek, Spotify’s co-founder and C.E.O., said after the E.U. fine was announced on Monday. “It’s going to keep on acting the way it has been acting.”

Apple has the resources to fight. The company said it planned to appeal Monday’s ruling and could contest accusations made under the D.M.A. It’s worth noting that the tech giant is still fighting against other government punishments, including a €13 billion tax assessment that the European Commission handed down in 2016.

The S.E.C. is set to vote on a new rule tomorrow that would require companies to disclose the climate risks from their business, a key piece of the Biden administration’s green agenda.

When the proposal was introduced two years ago, Gary Gensler, the S.E.C. chair, said it would help safeguard “tens of trillions of dollars” of investors’ money. But climate experts and former S.E.C. commissioners expect the measure will have been watered-down amid intense corporate lobbying and a wider conservative pushback against agency power.

The rule was meant to help investors assess climate risks. The money flowing into companies that prioritize environmental, social and governance principles has boomed in recent years, a huge profit driver for Wall Street. But E.S.G. investors have begun to pull back lately amid concerns about greenwashing, red-state boycotts and regulatory uncertainty.

Some fear that muted S.E.C. rules could hinder transparency. Another issue: California and Europe have advanced aggressive disclosure mandates, leaving large companies to potentially navigate a mishmash of regulations.

What’s expected to be gone? The most contentious aspect said to have been axed involves so-called Scope 3 discharges, which would apply to the bulk of a company’s emissions. But measuring Scope 3 involves an expensive examination of the entire suppliers-to-customers value chain.

Scope 3 is a “centrally important metric for investors” and critical to preventing greenwashing, Allison Herren Lee, the former acting chair of the S.E.C., told DealBook. (In 2021, she pushed for this requirement.)

What’s probably in? Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, measuring a company’s direct carbon footprint, are expected to be part of the new rules, but only if they’re deemed “material.” This qualification leaves companies some wiggle room.

“If the S.E.C. ultimately leaves climate disclosure decisions up to corporate executives, that’s a policy choice with an unhappy history,” said Satyam Khanna, a former S.E.C. climate adviser.

Even watered-down rules could ignite a legal battle. Business groups have repeatedly challenged the Biden administration’s environmental agenda in the courts.

The S.E.C. will be sued “just as surely as the sun rises in the East,” said Joseph Grundfest, a professor at Stanford Law School and a former S.E.C. commissioner.

96Phoenix, a member of the WallStreetBets online community, on Reddit’s I.P.O. plans. Reddit has been betting on enthusiasm among its users but some are expressing reservations instead.

More than a year after Elon Musk closed his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter (now X) the challenges — and lawsuits — are stacking up.

Musk, who filed his own blockbuster lawsuit last week against OpenAI, has faced down a mountain of legal trouble before. But these distractions come at an especially rough moment for the billionaire. Musk is wrestling with an investor exodus at Tesla, his electric vehicle maker, and the banks that lent him billions to buy Twitter two years ago have reportedly met with him to discuss refinancing the terms.

Former Twitter executives are the latest to join in. One of Musk’s first acts after he bought the company was to fire Parag Agrawal, its C.E.O.; Ned Segal, the C.F.O.; Vijaya Gadde, the legal and policy chief; and Sean Edgett, the general counsel. They sued Musk for $128 million on Monday, accusing him of withholding severance payments and depriving them of unvested stock awards when he took the company private in October 2022.

Musk believes he fired them “for cause.” The lawsuit quotes Musk telling the biographer Walter Isaacson that he would “hunt” the executives “till the day they die.”

“This is the Musk playbook: to keep the money he owes other people, and force them to sue him,” the executives’ lawyers write. “Even in defeat, Musk can impose delay, hassle and expense on others less able to afford it.”

The case puts Musk’s multiple legal suits back in the spotlight. Here are a couple more:



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