Morning Briefing

The Disinformation Wars

We seem to be entering a new era of psychological warfare. The Russian and U.S. intelligence services are accusing each other of using the internet to spread falsehoods through cyberattacks. One agency made up weapons of mass destruction; the other tried to alter the course of the other’s elections. Even an Oscar-winning Hollywood director would be hard pressed to think up this script.

Not many people think of government when they read about Germany Inc. But they should, according to the German Taxpayers’ Association. Their latest report shows a 25-percent surge since 2006 in investments by local governments in 13,500 private companies. The association is sounding the alarm: Get the state out of the board room. On the other hand: The state’s encroachment is a reaction to excesses of the private sector, especially the banks. Every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Or in this case: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Italy’s finance sector is in deep trouble. While UniCredit could bolster its capital base by selling off a fund management unit, Pioneer, troubled bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena can’t seem to find any takers for its desperately needed €5 billion capital increase. The sovereign wealth fund of Qatar may spring for €1 billion. But that’ll leave it to the European Central Bank to fork over the rest. At least the ECB’s money printing-presses are still warm from the last go-round.

The results of the new Forsa poll should come as no surprise. Germans are troubled and unnerved by the low-interest rate regime of the European Central Bank, which rewards spenders and penalizes savers. There are many ways to turn people off from a united Europe. ECB President Mario Draghi’s monetary policies seem to be the most effective. One saves the banks but loses the people.

Shareholders of Monsanto today are expected to approve Bayer’s $66 billion purchase of the U.S. seeds giant. The vote will take place in Missouri. The outcome is considered a certainty: The purchase price is 44 percent above Monsanto’s closing price. For Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, the real work now begins. He has to show that a marriage made in heaven can bear fruit on earth. One can buy shareholder good will, but not the successful fusion of two big companies.

Santa Claus came early this week, courtesy of Deutsche Bahn. The national railroad and one union agreed on a contract for 150,000 workers, averting the possibility of holiday strikes. A pact with the cantankerous locomotive engineers’ union is still in the works, but at least there’s no chance of a shut-down through New Year’s. Maybe Deutsche Bahn CEO Rüdiger Grube should loan his negotiators to strike-plagued Lufthansa, which can’t seem to get its plan to improve labor relations off the ground.

 

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