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'No space . . . for that': US businessmen on debate

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The tumultuous presidential debate on Tuesday night between US President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden has added to concerns that a chaotic race to the November elections would agitate the markets.

New York

THE tumultuous presidential debate on Tuesday night between US President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden only added to concerns that a chaotic race to the November elections would agitate the markets.

Companies big and small have been on a roller coaster as coronavirus cases in the United States have continued to rise, and policymakers in Washington have inspired little confidence that they are ready to pass additional pandemic relief.

The first presidential debate has only added to the risks facing business. Many business leaders were concerned about disruptions to a smooth transition of power if Mr Trump lost, while others expressed dismay at his refusal to condemn white supremacy and his suggestion that the Proud Boys, a far-right group, should be prepared to "stand back and stand by".

"People just want stability, some degree of normalcy," said Aaron Levie, chief executive of the tech company Box. "We want to understand what the geopolitical landscape looks like, what trade looks like, what immigration looks like. There's not a clear underlying philosophy that drives this administration, other than nationalism. You just can't predict the next move."

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Mr Levie added he was concerned that another term for Mr Trump would lead to fewer foreign nationals coming to the United States to pursue education and professional opportunities, noting that many of the country's most successful companies have been started by immigrants.

"I do think that America does not look very stable is a problem," said Alex Karp, chief executive of Palantir, a tech company that had its debut on Wall Street on Wednesday. "Fifty per cent of our business is outside of America, and the fact that the global brand of America is really suffering could long-term impact our business."

Barry Sternlicht, a co-founder and chief executive of Starwood Capital, a real estate investment fund, said at CNBC's Delivering Alpha conference that Mr Trump's "stand back and stand by" comment "was it for me". He added: "I have no space in my life for that."

"It was hard to watch," said Mindy Grossman, chief executive of Weight Watchers parent WW International. "We look at our leaders in a certain way, and I don't think that was exemplified in the event last night."

"I can't tell you who won, but I can tell you who lost: That was the American people," Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, said on CNBC. "It was a waste of an hour-and-a-half that gave no guidance, no direction at all over where the country will go after this election."

Lloyd Blankfein, who served as chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs until the end of 2018, tweeted that Mr Trump's behaviour at the debate had raised Mr Biden's appeal among investors. "So far the stock market doesn't seem too upset at the prospect of Biden winning, despite Trump's more market friendly policies," he wrote on Twitter. "Perhaps folks think their stocks and 401(k)s will do better with higher taxes and increased regulation than with nastiness and scorched earth."

"I thought Trump was so horrible that he didn't do himself any good," said Michael Novogratz, a trader and merchant banker who is supporting Mr Biden. "His rudeness, his facial anger, the whole body language was just so violent."

Ryan Gellert, chief executive of Patagonia, the popular outdoors brand, said the debate "was a real embarrassment to America and our leadership place in the world", adding: "The fact that we are now in advance debating the efficacy of an upcoming election and trying to delegitimise it - it's such a turn in the wrong direction." NYTIMES

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