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CEOs Talk Tech, Scrutiny, Turmoil -- WSJ -2-

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05/15/2019 | 02:49am EDT

Kori Schake of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies and a former senior U.S. national security official most recently in the George W. Bush administration, said the rise of China made great-power competition inevitable.

China's rise had also created a new problem for governments around the world that didn't exist when Beijing was less powerful.

"They are going to face trade-offs between major economic interactions... and the security consequences," she said. One example of this that came up in other discussions was the dilemma faced by Western governments over whether to use equipment from the Chinese telecom company Huawei as they build 5G telecoms networks.

Ms. Schake said that in the new reality of great-power rivalry, President Trump had failed to exploit one U.S. advantage by not investing in international rules, institutions and alliances that the U.S. had created and led.

Gen. Gordon Messenger, who retired Tuesday as the U.K.'s vice-chief of the defense staff, said medium-size powers with moderate defense budgets like the U.K. had to adjust to a world -- unlike during the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans -- where they didn't have the initiative. Traditional military hardware wasn't the answer to many of the cyber and other threats now coming from adversaries, he said.

Militaries needed to create a "network-centric" rather than "platform-centric" approach, Gen. Messenger said.

-- By Stephen Fidler

Trade Talks Could Surprise, Says Trump Adviser

America's trade dispute with China that has seriously escalated this week is part of an effort by Washington to change Beijing's economic model, a senior outside foreign-policy adviser to President Donald Trump said.

Michael Pillsbury, director of the Hudson's Institute's Center on Chinese Strategy, told business leaders that despite the challenges the trade talks could still have a positive outcome. "The talks could certainly surprise even The Wall Street Journal," he said.

Mr. Pillsbury added that a U.S.-China trade agreement -- the prospectus for which was contained in a secret 150-page document -- would among other things try to establish global product standards.

Keyu Jin, a China specialist and economics professor at the London School of Economics, said the trade talks "are the easy part" compared with technology issues and other problems, where there was even greater rivalry between the U.S. and China. "This is going to be a long struggle, " she said.

While he said the trade talks were still live, Mr. Pillsbury said there was a risk the two sides could slide into a new Cold War. Accidental war "could happen quite easily," he said.

Ms. Jin said China wouldn't consider war with the U.S. But she depicted the country becoming more assertive. While 20 years ago it was trying to fit in to the rules laid down by the West, it now saw the global order -- particularly after the 2008 financial crash -- as having some fundamental problems and would now try to shape it.

-- By Stephen Fidler

Blackstone Remains Bullish Despite Uncertainty on Trade, Brexit

Escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and China stand to slow economic growth over the short term but the resulting volatility won't deter Blackstone from investing, according the private-equity giant's president.

Equity markets fell sharply in recent days, amid concerns that a slowdown in trade between the world's two biggest economies could lead to a corporate earnings slowdown, placing already expensive stocks at risk of a sustained decline.

The selloff is understandable, but it doesn't eliminate buying opportunities for stocks of companies poised to generate relatively higher earnings growth in a relatively slower environment, Blackstone's Jon Gray argued.

The same logic applies in the firm's approach to Britain, he said, where the protracted Brexit talks haven't stopped Blackstone from making bets in areas such commercial real estate. The firm invested in the railway arches of Britain's Network Rail, for instance.

Investors can't "lose sight of fundamental value," Mr. Gray said.

Ultimately, the private-equity executive expects the U.S. and China to resolve the trade issue, but is uncertain on the timing. When China was an emerging country, it could adopt a protective economy, but now as one of the world's largest economies it will need to change its relationship with the U.S., Mr. Gray said.

Flush with record amounts of cash, private-equity firms have become key drivers of deal making. But that activity has also raised concern among regulators and U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell about the overall size of the leverage loan market.

Blackstone's Mr. Gray believes the concerns are "a little overdone," noting that loan defaults are rare and overall loan coverage is high. Growth of the leverage loan market means risk is more broadly distributed outside of the banking system, he added.

-- By Ben Dummett

Britain Looks to Set Up New Social-Media Regulator

The U.K. proposes to create a new regulator, independent of government, that will have the power to order social-media companies to take down content deemed harmful, even if it isn't illegal.

The proposals are currently open to public consultation and some industry respondents have said they think the plans would cover too many firms and leave companies open to challenge for too wide a range of content, Margot James said.

"I think there are some understandable concerns around that," she said. But she added that the aim of the proposed legislation is to get companies "to take seriously and execute policies that put the care and security of their users first and foremost."

Ms. James added the new regulator will have an important role to play in policing harmful content online such as hate speech.

It is usually easy for governments to hold social-media companies to remove hate speech on their platforms when the language explicitly breaks local laws, she said, but some examples of alleged hate speech aren't necessarily illegal. The new regulator will be able to order its removal regardless, she said.

-- By Jason Douglas

Live Longer, Work Longer

Aging populations and the threat of technology disruption are two of the biggest challenges companies, their employees and governments face in ensuring a healthy and productive workforce.

Currently, the commonly accepted retirement age is 65. But healthier living and better health care mean people are living longer. The challenge then is to try to ensure people can afford a reasonable standard of living over a longer period, says Lynda Gratton, a professor of Management Practice at the London Business School.

As life expectancy increases at "a phenomal rate," it isn't unreasonable to expect more people to live to 100, Ms. Gratton said. But that also means people should start preparing themselves and their children to stretch their working life to 75, she added.

The difficulty in her opinion, however, is that companies and governments aren't doing enough to adopt and support the requirements workers will need to thrive in this environment. While workers can typically upgrade their skills on the job, many others will need to learn completely new skills, she said. But to achieve this goal, employees might need to take a gap year to "reskill" and that's something many companies mightn't currently support, Prof. Gratton said.

Technology has already proven to be a disruptive force in the workplace. With the adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics, that trend will only increase as companies seek ways to achieve greater productivity and cost-savings, according to Vivian Hunt, managing partner at McKinsey & Co.

Ms. Hunt argues that chief executives need to manage their workforce as if it were a family unit, with a sense of duty and stewardship.

-- By Ben Dummett

Zara Owner Turned Tardiness Into a Virtue

Zara owner Inditex SA Chief Executive Pablo Isla said being late to online shopping allowed the world's largest fashion retailer to develop a business model that has positioned it more strongly than it otherwise would have.

Mr. Isla, speaking at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council here, said the company -- which also owns Massimo Dutti, Bershka and other brands -- only launched online operations in 2010. That meant, right from the get go, he said, its online business was integrated with its stores.

The fashion behemoth has honed an online strategy that exploits a rapid-fire production and distribution system that has allowed Zara to use thousands of its stores as a convenient pickup and return point for online customers.

Had the company begun its online journey five years earlier, Mr. Isla, said, things would be different. "It's much more difficult later on to try to move to an integrated business than from the very beginning," he said.

While the company relies on algorithms and the use of data to make decisions about sourcing and distribution, Inditex still leans heavily on store managers to make decisions, he said. "We always try to manage data but without losing at the same time the human touch," he said.

The key, said Mr. Isla, is short lead times, which allow Inditex to quickly respond to fast-changing trends and avoid taking big risks. The company makes many products in Portugal and Spain, where it has also based various brand headquarters and logistics facilities. That approach gives it an edge over rivals because of the speed with which new products hit stores, he said.

"If you have to take decisions 12 months in advance you run a huge fashion risk," he said.

-- By Saabira Chaudhuri

What's Next In Tech

Sonali De Rycker, a partner at venture capital investor Accel, told CEOs that finding promising new companies is harder now, forcing her to look in more complicated sectors of the economy for the next best thing.

(MORE TO FOLLOW) Dow Jones Newswires

05-15-19 0247ET

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EURO / BRITISH POUND (EUR/GBP) 0.02% 0.9144 Delayed Quote.1.47%
FACEBOOK -0.14% 183.55 Delayed Quote.40.02%
HILTON WORLDWIDE HOLDINGS INC -1.20% 91.62 Delayed Quote.27.60%
INDITEX - INDUSTRIA DE DISEÑO TEXTIL 3.08% 27.14 End-of-day quote.21.43%
VALUE8 N.V. -1.45% 5.44 Delayed Quote.14.77%
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Sales 2019 162 B
EBIT 2019 35 473 M
Net income 2019 34 186 M
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Yield 2019 -
P/E ratio 2019 24,4x
P/E ratio 2020 21,4x
EV / Sales2019 4,35x
EV / Sales2020 3,57x
Capitalization 826 B
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