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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No. OK. So, you haven’t resigned, you haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings, you haven’t fired a single senior executive. Instead, evidently, your definition of accountable is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don’t have the money or a fancy PR firm to defend themselves. It’s gutless leadership.
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TYLER MATHISEN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR: Heated and intense. The fireworks flew on Capitol Hill and the CEO of Wells Fargo revealed during testimony today that the bank’s fake accounts scandal may run a lot deeper than most thought.
SHARON EPPERSON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR: The great rate debate. Federal Reserve begins its two-day meeting but most are not holding their breath for a rate hike tomorrow.
MATHISEN: The road ahead — includes self-driving cars and the government is out with new guidelines to pave the way and ensure safety.
Those stories and more tonight on NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for Tuesday, September 20th.
EPPERSON: Good evening, everyone. I’m Sharon Epperson, in tonight for Sue Herera.
MATHISEN: And I’m Tyler Mathisen. Welcome, everyone.
We begin with the intense and dramatic questioning of Wells Fargo’s chairman and CEO by the Senate Banking Committee today. For once, partisan lines seemed blurred, and Republicans and Democrats alike flipped the witness like a burner on a hot grill.
Never mind that John Stumpf immediately began his testimony with an apology. That wasn’t enough for lawmakers. They wanted red meat. Some pushed him to resign. Others said he needs to be criminally investigated for his bank’s creation of as many as 2 million unauthorized bank and credit card accounts.
And along the way, there were new revelations. Stumpf said the illegal activity which was believed to have started in 2011 may have begun even earlier.
Also, there was some concern today that the alleged fraudulent activity may have damaged customers’ credit scores.
Wilfred Frost reports tonight from Capitol Hill on the hearing that captivated Wall Street, Main Street and Washington.
WILFRED FROST, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf’s Senate hearing started as he had planned, with his opening remarks.
JOHN STUMPF, WELLS FARGO CHAIRMAN & CEO: I am deeply sorry that we failed to fulfill on our responsibility to our customers, to our team members and to the American public.
FROST: But very quickly, things turned against him as he failed to echo that apologetic and genuine tone in the Q&A, particularly as he damaged questions of whether he and other executives should return their bonuses.
WARREN: When it all blew up, you kept your job, you kept your multimillion dollar bonuses and you went on television to blame thousands of $12 an hour employees who were just trying to meet cross sale quotas that made you rich.
This is about accountability. You should resign. You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on and you should be criminally investigated.
FROST: The share price hitting the lows of the day during Senator Warren’s grilling.
Stumpf appeared ill-prepared at times, not able to give clear answers to relatively simple questions such as when he became aware of the wrongdoing in the first place.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: When did you become aware more precisely?
STUMPF: Yes, it was later —
BROWN: Was it “The L.A. Times” article that you became —
STUMPF: Yes, later in 2013. Well, I had — actually, I don’t remember the exact time frame. I can get back to you and staff. It was some time in 2013.
FROST: Outside of the intense pressure of the hearing, the main headlines included that Wells cannot guarantee the issues began in 2011, as previously thought. The investigation is being extended to 2009. Also, that fraudulent credit card accounts opened will be made whole and compensated for, including any damages suffered by lower credit ratings.
Finally, that there are still no claw backs of bonuses, but the board does have the tools and authority to do so.
Regulators were quizzed after Stumpf, and suggested that investigations will take place into other banks, though no evidence against them exists yet. Either way, questions will be raised about the size of certain banks in the aftermath of this for hearing.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I’m Wilfred Frost on Capitol Hill.
EPPERSON: Joining us now is Senator Jeff Merkley. He’s a Democrat from Oregon who demanded accountability and answers from Wells Fargo today on Capitol Hill.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: You’re welcome. Good to be with you.
EPPERSON: It seemed to me that senators from both aisles — sides of the aisle were really grilling Stumpf today and really concerned about accountability. You, for one, also believe he should resign.
Do you also believe that he should be criminally investigated?
MERKLEY: I think — not as a criminal expert, but I believe what happened under his watch, and the fact that he signed statements to investors that indicated none of this, disclosed none of this, does suggest that there is a lot to be investigated here.
But here’s the big picture: Wells Fargo set up a high-pressure sales operation. They proceed to have daily quotas for people to set up accounts. They didn’t meet them. They had to come in the evening, had to come in on the weekend.
They got lectured. They had hourly calls at regional level, establishing how many accounts had set up in a particular day. Individuals were threatened with being written up if they didn’t meet their total or being fired. Very high pressure.
And what the president of the bank came in today, the CEO came in today and said, nope, we didn’t do any of that. We, the management, bear no responsibility. We didn’t set up a high-pressure sales operation. This is just the result, he said, of 5,000 folks who had poor ethics.
And that is unacceptable. It’s completely incompatible with the truth. It means that management is not accepting responsibility. And they’re certainly not doing anything it should have in terms of holding managers accountable.
EPPERSON: One of the things that was brought up in this testimony, as well as the hearing, was that the annual reports show that a lot of the sales managers and the goal of the company was to increase the number of accounts that customers had year-to-year. And that, in fact, was done and the stock price reflected that.
Do you now believe —
MERKLEY: This was a strategy set at the highest levels of the bank, do this cross-selling as what they bragged about in their annual meetings. It’s what they used to pump up the price of the stock. It’s therefore inflated the bonuses and the stock option value of the senior management.
It was at the core of their strategy, and they came in today and blamed it on the 5,000 low-level employees who were caught between being fired and beating these quotas.
EPPERSON: So, what happens now? Should they give back their bonuses? Should those bonuses be clawed back and executive compensation be curtailed because of this?
MERKLEY: Those who are in the line of management for this operation should absolutely have their bonuses clawed back, to the full extent they’re allowed to.
Now, I was told by a high member of the Wells Fargo a couple days ago they can only claw back one-third of the most — or two-thirds of the most recent bonus last year and two-thirds of the previous year. They otherwise are vested, if you will. So — but to whatever extent they can say this was unacceptable, they need to do so.
And it’s — the fact is, the CEO has been at the highest level since 2005, from before this crisis until now. He couldn’t not have known about the strategy for cross-marketing when it was the major thing that he promoted to investors through all these years, and that he was so, so proud of.
MATHISEN: Mr. Stumpf obviously said there is a board process at work here. We shall see. He is, of course, a member of that board. I wonder if you think he should recuse himself from whatever that process is, number one.
But let me get to a second question, which is a slightly off-center here. And that is the role of federal regulators in uncovering or really not uncovering this fraud. I’ll grant you, finding fraud from some — by somebody who is determined to hide it is hard. But it was not federal regulators at the Office of the Controller of the Currency or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that uncovered these sales practices in the first place. It was a “Los Angeles Times” reporter and then the city attorney in Los Angeles.
Are you concerned about the feds being behind the game?
MERKLEY: Well, I certainly applaud what Los Angeles did to jump on to this. By the way, there was a court case from a woman who in 2008 brought this type of activity to the attention of a supervisor who was hounded for doing so. And so, this activity not only goes back to 2009, it goes back earlier than that.
But I feel the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the OCC did great work on this. After they had it brought to their attention. And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now has a line in which people can call and express dissatisfaction in which they get a pretty regular rhythm of what’s going wrong.
And my understanding is they are going to now be looking at other banks that use similar tactics and may have had similar results. I know I myself applied for an account and didn’t want overdraft protection, and that it was slammed on to my account.
My daughter, we set up an account and it was supposed to be a free student account. We went home, got the paperwork a couple days later, they were charging us for a normal account.
And now I think about that, and think, yes, I bet that poor —
EPPERSON: Very important point. Because consumers also need to be vigilant in checking their accounts.
Thank so much, Senator Jeff Merkley.
MERKLEY: You’re welcome. Great to be with you.
MATHISEN: And tomorrow, another big hearing on the Hill. The CEO of Mylan scheduled to testify on the rising price of those EpiPens. Ahead of that hearing, West Virginia said it’s looking into whether Mylan violated antitrust laws or defrauded the state’s Medicaid program. The state attorney general wants the drug maker to turn over documents related to its EpiPen treatment and confirm that he issued a subpoena back in August.
As it so happens, the father of Mylan’s CEO is Senator Joe Manchin, from that same state of West Virginia. And separately, the Senate Finance Committee has asked the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate Medicaid rebates for those EpiPens.
EPPERSON: “USA Today” reports the mother of Mylan’s CEO used her position with an education group to increase EpiPen sales nationwide. Gayle Manchin took over the National Association of State Boards and Education in 2012. While she was there, she led the effort to require schools to purchase that device that fights allergic reactions. And as we reported last month, a 2013 law was passed which provides incentives for schools to stock emergency supplies of epinephrine.
MATHISEN: The Security and Exchange Commission is reportedly investigating how ExxonMobil valued its assets as the price of oil plunged. “The Wall Street Journal” reports that the regulator has asked the energy company and its auditor for information. It did so last week.
And last week, we told you that the New York attorney general was reportedly investigating the company over the same issue.
EPPERSON: On Wall Street, stocks were slightly higher today. Investors appear to be awaiting the outcome of the Fed’s two-day meeting. More on that story in just a moment.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average added nine points to close at 18,129. The NASDAQ gained six and the S&P 500 was up fractionally.
MATHISEN: Housing, vital to the American economy, of course, saw construction stumble last month. According to the Commerce Department, housing starts missed forecast, falling nearly 6 percent. Permits considered a key gauge of future construction, they were flat. Most of the weakness was in the southern part of the country, which is the biggest region for building.
Despite the weak report, the housing sector does remain healthy overall, supported by low mortgage rates and a healthy job mark.
EPPERSON: As we just mentioned, Federal Reserve policy makers began their two-day meeting today, with a decision on interest rates and although the well-known bond fund manager, Bill Gross, says the probability of a rate hike tomorrow is better than the market expects, most on Wall Street disagree.
Steve Liesman has the results of a new CNBC Fed Survey.
STEVE LIESMAN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Markets going into tomorrow’s meeting and the (INAUDIBLE) with pretty good certainty about how things shake out from the Federal Reserve. Ninety percent of our 41 respondents say the Fed will not hike rates tomorrow. You can see in August, 21 percent, a fifth, had the idea maybe the Fed would hike at the meeting tomorrow. Just 7 percent say that now.
Why does the Fed stay on hold? Take a look here — 31 percent say because of global growth concerns, 22 percent say because the market is not ready for it because they’re not priced to get out, 11 percent say the presidential election, and 11 percent say inconsistent or weak job growth.
How about the rest of the year? Pretty good unanimity or at least consensus. Eighty-eight percent believing the next rate hike comes in December. That’s up from just below 70 percent of the August survey and a few others for the next rate hike.
We also asked about the dove-hawk index, where different people stand. The most dovish, Fed Governor Lael Brainard, on a scale of zero to 10, she’s just 1.8. The Fed Chair Janet Yellen, 3.2. All the governors are 3.8. More dovish, you can see here, than the presidents at 5.3.
There’s the average. A touch more hawkish than it was when we last asked in April. And then, all the presidents, 5.3, Stan Fischer, the Fed vice chair, a big gap between Stan Fischer and the Fed chair, Janet Yellen. And here’s our most hawkish Fed president, Kansas City President Esther George. She is at 8.4.
Back to you, guys.
MATHISEN: I think I was a 3.2 in college.
FedEx is often considered a barometer of the global economy. Tonight, the package delivery company set strong sales help lifted results. FedEx reported earnings of $290 a share, that was 9 cents better than estimates. Revenue is up nearly 20 percent from a year ago, more than $14.5 billion. And they were slightly better than expectations. Investors encouraged by the results, sending shares up initially in extended hours trading.
Morgan Brennan has the key take-away on FedEx’s results.
MORGAN BRENNAN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: FedEx reporting quarterly earnings that were better than Wall Street analysts had expected, leading the delivery giant to boost its full-year adjusted earnings outlook. The higher profits were driven by gains in all three of its legacy segments, express, ground and freight. Cost reductions at FedEx Express in which the company has been undertaking a year’s long profitability improvement plan seem to be paying off. And e-commerce growth helps contribute to a 10 percent jump in daily volumes of ground packages.
But FedEx also giving its first indications of how TNT Express will affect results. It bought the Dutch package carrier for nearly $5 billion earlier this year in its biggest ever acquisition. Wall Street had been looking for more guidance on TNT’s incorporation.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I’m Morgan Brennan.
EPPERSON: Still ahead, a stalwart many portfolios raise dividends and set a very big buyback program.
MATHISEN: President Obama defended his foreign policy today, in his final speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly. The president said the world is more peaceful, economically secure, and prosperous, than it has ever been. He argued for open markets as a way to promote global economic growth.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that the acceleration of travel and technology and telecommunications, together with a global economy that depends on a global supply chain, makes it self-defeating ultimately for those who seek to reverse this progress. Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATHISEN: He also called for greater international cooperation to fight ISIS.
EPPERSON: The former CEO of General Electric explained why he plans to vote for Donald Trump. Jack Welch, a long-time Republican supporter, says he likes Trump’s plan on tax reform, and government regulation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK WELCH, FORMER GENERAL ELECTRIC CHAIRMAN & CEO: You either take the Republican agenda, or you take the Democratic agenda. The Democratic agenda is Obama-plus, stated over and over again. The Republican agenda is 15 percent. The personal rates are dropped to 12, 25 and 33, rates (ph) stay the same plus more. And capital gains at 25 percent versus 47.5 top rate.
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EPPERSON: Though Mr. Welch came out strongly in favor of Trump, today’s “New York Times” reported that many business leaders are tiptoeing around the Republican nominee, reluctant to say anything critical on the record. Separately, the CNBC Fed Survey found that Wall Streeters are less certain that Hillary Clinton will win the White House, just more than half of respondents say she will be victorious, down from 84 percent in the prior survey.
MATHISEN: John Harwood joins us now with more on the race for the White House.
John, while business expects her to win still, it is no longer a slam dunk and the conventional wisdom is that she will prevail in the Electoral College, though that is getting very tight, as Mr. Trump pulls ahead in Ohio, maybe can flip Iowa, maybe Florida. If he does that, my reading is he needs one more state, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and he’s over the top.
Why did the race tighten?
JOHN HARWOOD, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans have come home to him. The biggest thing we have seen in the last few weeks is that after Hillary Clinton got a big high, boost in the polls from her successful convention from Donald Trump’s mistakes, you saw a bunch of independents who usually lean to the Republicans and some Republicans themselves, moderates, drift over to Hillary Clinton.
He has been pulling those people back. That’s the dividend of the more disciplined style that he’s been showing in recent weeks. His challenge is to try to hold them through the debates, which begin next week and beyond.
MATHISEN: You have said for months, John, that what his deficit was, that Republicans — he wasn’t getting 90 percent of his party. Now it appears he is, right?
HARWOOD: That is right. He has come up among Republicans. He — not quite at parity in the NBC Survey Monkey Poll that came out this morning. She has slightly more Democrats than Republicans. Republicans typically have a higher level of cohesion, which they need, because there are fewer Republicans.
But no, he’s getting within range, and that says that he’s got a shot to win this thing and the closer that popular vote draws, the electoral vote follows.
EPPERSON: Now, we heard from one of his key supporters, Jack Welch. But what do we know about how business leaders view this presidential election more generally?
HARWOOD: Well, it’s very unusual situation, because Donald Trump comes out of the business world, but he is in no way a conventional business person, like a lot of the major business figures in American politics. We have seen some prominent business people like Hank Paulson, the former head of Goldman Sachs, former Bush treasury secretary, come out and say Donald Trump presidency is unthinkable. He’s not stable.
But you also have some others who, as Andrew Sorkin wrote in his column, are hesitant to criticize him and maybe some privately support him.
MATHISEN: All right. John, thank you very much. John Harwood reporting tonight from Washington.
EPPERSON: Allergan pays nearly 20 times the value of a small biotech and that’s where we begin tonight’s “Market Focus”.
The maker of Botox said it will acquire Tobira Pharmaceuticals for up to $1.7 billion. Tobira was worth $190 million at yesterday’s close. Allergan will add two of Tobira’s experimental drugs to its portfolio that aim to treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Shares of Allergan fell nearly 3 percent to $238.67. But look at Tobira, up more than 700 percent to $38.91. It was a $3 stock.
Sinclair Broadcast Group said it would miss quarterly revenue estimates as lower presidential campaign ad spending is expected to hurt results. This news is in sharp contrast to the broadcasters’ August remarks when it said this would be a record year for political ad spending. Sinclair down more than 9 percent to $25.99.
HNI lowered its quarterly sales and profit guidance as the office furniture maker expects demand for products to fall more than expected. The company also cut its full-year forecast, citing impact from the economic uncertainty. HNI shares hit hard, falling 24 percent to $40.97.
MATHISEN: Lennar saw its profit and revenue rise because of an increase in sales of high priced homes. Those results came in ahead of Wall Street estimates. The company also said total orders were up. But growth was at its slowest pace in more than a year, because of inconsistent demand in the Houston market. Lennar off 3 1/2 percent on the day, at $43.50.
Meantime, KB Homes reported higher than expected earnings. Sales also rose, but those results came in a little shy of estimates. Shares initially rose following the after-bell results, offsetting the 2 percent drop during the regular session. The stock closed the day at $14.94.
And Microsoft raised its quarterly dividend 8 percent to 39 cents a share. The tech giant also said it would launch a $40 billion share buyback program. Shares of Microsoft initially up following the news after-hours. But they did end down a fraction on the day to close at $56.81.
EPPERSON: Another big development on the west coast. The Big Sur Wildfire is now the costliest in U.S. history. Accord to the U.S. Forest Service, more than $200 million has been spent on firefighting since the fire broke out at the end of the July. Officials say the cost is rising about $2 million a day. The remote location makes the fire harder and costlier to fight.
MATHISEN: Coming up, an unprecedented move that government makes its first attempt to regulate an emerging technology.
EPPERSON: Here’s a look at what’s to watch tomorrow. As we reported, Mylan CEO heads to Capitol Hill to answer questions about the rising price of EpiPens. The Federal Reserve will release its decision on interest rates followed by a news conference with Chief Janet Yellen. The Bank of Japan is widely expected to increase its stimulus measures, and that’s what to watch Wednesday.
MATHISEN: American drivers wasted more than $2 billion on premium grade gasoline last year. According to AAA, drivers spent more money at the pump than they had to, buying higher octane gas for cars that are built to run on more traditional regular fuel. AAA says that using premium provided no benefit to those vehicles, such as fuel economy or reduction in tailpipe emissions or greater pickup when compared with regular.
EPPERSON: Now, you may not be ready to get into a self-driving car right now. But the federal government is clearing the way for those vehicles to hit the road. Today, it laid out a new policy outlining some of the minimum standards expected of those cars and trucks.
Phil LeBeau has more.
PHIL LEBEAU, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: The car is in control.
From Pennsylvania to California, there are hundreds of self-driving vehicles being tested on U.S. roads. What started with Google a few years ago has exploded into a wide range of automakers, suppliers, even ride share companies developing self-driving cars. Now, the federal government is setting guidelines for what’s expected of those vehicles, including a guarantee the models are safe to be out on the road.
ANTHONY FOXX, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: There has never been a moment like this. A moment where we can build a culture of safety as a new transportation technology emerges. That harnesses the potential to save even more lives.
LEBEAU: Right now, traffic deaths in the U.S. are rising, in part because distracted driving remains a huge problem. In fact, 94 percent of all highway fatalities are due to human error.
In theory, that should change, as cars take over steering, acceleration and braking, so drivers no longer make the wrong choices behind the wheel. Still, Americans are wary of giving up control of their cars. A recent survey found almost half of those questioned say they would be very uncomfortable with a computer doing the driving by comparison, fewer than 10 percent would be okay with their car being in control.
While this is a big step toward clearing the road for self-driving vehicles, we are still many years away from eliminating drivers behind the wheel. In fact, it will be well into next decade before we see the day when a vehicle pulls up with no driver inside to give us a ride across town.
Phil LeBeau, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Chicago.
EPPERSON: I don’t know if I’m ready for that. But to read more about the new guidelines for self-driving cars, head to our website, NBR.com.
And that’s NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for tonight. I’m Sharon Epperson. Thanks so much for watching.
MATHISEN: And thanks from me, as well. I’m Tyler Mathisen. Have a great evening, everybody. And we’ll see you back here tomorrow night.
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