The Week's Top Stories: Tesla Layoffs and Brexit Chaos

January 18, 2019

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, these are the top stories that moved markets and had investors, business leaders, and entrepreneurs talking this week on Cheddar.

Markets & Earnings: Is the volatility ー dare we say it ー over? Stocks continued to trade in a more normalized pattern this week, but got a big a boost after a report that China will take steps to ease its trade imbalance with the U.S. by importing more American goods. The report followed news that administration officials may scale back some current tariffs on China as a good-faith effort to strike a trade deal. Meanwhile, banks reported earnings throughout the week, with Goldman Sachs ($GS) and Bank of America ($BAC) beating expectations on the strengths of their lending divisions, even as their trading desks struggled. Nowhere was that struggle more evident than at Morgan Stanley, which reported a 30 percent decline in its bond trading for the quarter. "2018 was a great year that finished on a disappointing note," Morgan's CEO said. See more.

Tesla Layoffs: Elon Musk sent an email to employees on Friday saying he would be forced to cut 7 percent of Tesla's ($TSLA) full-time workforce, as a way to reduce the cost of making the Model 3 sedan. The cuts could affect as many as 3,000 Tesla employees, who have been working nonstop over the past year to meet production targets. Tesla shares sank more than 10 percent on the news. Musk lamented that the most affordable Model 3, at $44,000, was still too expensive to be the mass-market electric vehicle that the CEO had envisioned. At the same time it reduces headcount, Tesla will increase its production rate and make design and engineering changes intended to reach the economies of scale that are needed to reduce the Model 3s base price to $35,000. Musk's other company, SpaceX, recently announced it too would lay off about 10 percent of its employees. See more.

Netflix in the News: It was a busy week for active Netflix ($NFLX) investors. The streaming giant announced it would hike subscription prices in the U.S. to offset the debt it's amassing and the cash it's burning from its huge original content push ー making it the fourth price increase in the company's history and its biggest since it joined the streaming business 12 years ago. That announcement, pilloried by users on social media but celebrated by the market, was followed by a mixed earnings report on Friday. Shares fell after the company said it beat on subscriber growth, but missed on revenue and issued weak guidance. Netflix added nearly 9 million new subscribers globally in the last quarter and said its streaming service accounts for about 10 percent of all television time in the U.S. Notably, the company also said it considers "Fortnite," the online gaming phenomenon, to be more of a threat to its business than HBO. See more.

Shutdown Paralysis: As the government shutdown drags on without an obvious end in sight ー and with the two principals, President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, having resorted to sending each other passive aggressive letters ー the tangible effects on the 800,000 furloughed federal workers are getting worse. Many have visited food banks and pantries, while some have gone so far as to pull cash out of their retirement funds. New federal data shows a 34 percent jump in hardship withdrawals in the first half of January over the same time period last year. Any non-Roth retirement account is subject to stiff penalties for early withdrawals ー and that includes the thrift savings plan (TSP), the federal equivalent of a 401(k). See more.

Brexit Chaos: Anyone holding out hope that Britain would withdraw from the European Union with a coherent exit strategy in place was in for another disappointment after Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan got walloped in Parliament. The British pound rose following the vote, as investors banked on the likelihood of a "soft Brexit" outcome. May then survived another no-confidence vote, just barely, and has until Monday to come up with another course of action. Support in the UK is growing for a second Brexit referendum, though that would be likely to cause even more chaos for a country that's been split over its narrow vote to leave the EU more than two-and-a-half years ago. See more.

ーCarlo Versano