The Week's Top Stories: Trade War Roller Coaster and Juul Nixes Mint

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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 this week provided a good lesson in not celebrating your gains too early. After weeks of optimism on a trade deal breakthrough between the U.S. and China, President Donald Trump announced on Friday he hasn’t yet agreed to remove tariffs on Chinese goods. This even after China’s Commerce Ministry said both sides agreed to simultaneously cancel some existing tariffs on goods. Removal of the tariffs imposed by the U.S. in September was reportedly a condition China demanded before it would agree to even the limited ‘Phase One’ trade deal. Markets descended from their highs, including a fresh record posted by the Dow on Tuesday.


McDonald’s fired its CEO Steve Easterbrook on Sunday for engaging in a consensual relationship with a colleague. Easterbrook is largely credited with leading a turnaround at the fast food chain, modernizing restaurants and pushing for more technology. In September, McDonald’s acquired Apprente, an A.I. company it said would improve menus at the chain. Easterbrook’s efforts nearly doubled the value of McDonald’s stock during Easterbrook’s tenure. The relationship, while consensual, violated fraternization policies at the chain.

The Easterbrook bombshell wasn’t the only executive shakeup to hit the Golden Arches: its Chief People Officer David Fairhurst, also left the company on Monday. McDonald’s claims the exit was unrelated to Easterbrook’s departure. The dual departures at McDonald’s is just one of many examples of the Great CEO Changeup of 2019, a string of high-profile boardroom shakeups around the later half of the year. Among the other big departures: Nike CEO Mark Parker, to be replaced early next year by John Donahoe and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, to be replaced in January by Patrik Frisk. Some of these changeovers were less-than-friendly: WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann stepped down from the company he founded as part of a deal to save the company ー financed by SoftBank.


Following a Halloween shooting that killed five people at an Airbnb “mansion party” in California, and a simultaneous investigation by VICE into a nationwide Airbnb scam, the short-term rental company said it would move to verify all seven million listings on the platform around the world. In an email to employees, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said it was the biggest overhaul to the company’s operations since it launched in 2008. Chesky did not detail how, exactly, Airbnb plans to verify all the listings by his target of December 2020, but said the move was critical to restoring trust in the company among its vast user base. Starting next month, Airbnb is also instituting a “guest guarantee” whereby users will receive a full refund or an “equal or better” booking if their rental is not up to Airbnb’s standards or was listed inaccurately. Airbnb is expected to go public next year, and the proactive moves represent an acknowledgment by management that the home-sharing platform cannot afford to be lumped in by investors with another real estate-adjacent startup that goes by the name of WeWork and proved to be the cautionary tale of 2019. Airbnb has been spending heavily the last year on marketing and acquisition costs, most recently buying UrbanDoor and, before that, HotelTonight.


Juul Labs, the maker of the most popular vape brand, is halting the sale of mint pods in the U.S., its most popular product. The company reportedly makes as much as 70 percent of its sales from the mint flavor and has previously stopped selling its other popular flavored flavors, leaving just menthol and two versions of tobacco available for sale. The move comes ahead of an expected federal ban of flavored vape products, in which mint was expected to be included. Juul said in a statement that it made the decision “in light of” the recent JAMA study, which showed that mint is the most popular flavor among teens.


Disney reported its last earnings report before the hugely anticipated launch of its streaming platform, Disney+, scheduled for Tuesday. The results came in above expectations on the top and bottom lines, sending Disney shares higher to end the week. CEO Bob Iger gave some new details on the launch of Disney+, saying a pilot program in the Netherlands was performing better than expected and the demographics of subscribers who have already forked over the $7 per month are “far broader” than the company was expecting. Iger also revealed that FX Networks, which Disney now controls after its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, will stream exclusively via Hulu ー Disney’s other streaming platform. FX will put its library on Hulu and produce four new series next year for the service, which lags Netflix in terms of original programming muscle.