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The Finance 202: #BoycottNRA courses through Wall Street

with Paulina Firozi


Delta and United join a growing list of companies cutting ties with the National Rifle Association. (Video: The Washington Post)

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The #BoycottNRA wave is crashing through Wall Street as finance giants reckon with the consumer demands for blue-chip companies to cut ties with gun interests in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. 

The latest: 

  • Blackstone Group, the investing behemoth, over the weekend asked outside fund managers to list their ownership in companies that manufacture and sell guns. “The request, with a roughly one-day turnaround, was emailed to managers at about a dozen hedge funds in which Blackstone has a stake, one of the people said,” the Wall Street Journal’s Jenny Strasburg and Miriam Gottfried report. “The email asked for information about ‘any ownership or lending’ of or to ‘gun manufacturers or gun sellers.’ ”
  • Bank of America issued a statement Saturday indicating it plans to “engage the limited number of clients we have that manufacture assault weapons for non-military use to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility,” although precisely what that means wasn’t immediately clear. Ditto investment manager BlackRock, the largest shareholder in gun makers Sturm Ruger and American Outdoor Brands. A spokesman said the firm "will be engaging with weapons manufacturers and distributors to understand their response to recent events."
  • MetLife joined the cavalcade of companies ending their discount program for NRA members, per a Friday tweet. And another insurer, Chubb, announced Friday that it will stop underwriting coverage for NRA members who get sued for shooting people, a program it called “NRA Carry Guard.”
  • First National Bank of Omaha was one of the first corporate movers. The privately held bank holding company announced Thursday that it would stop issuing its NRA-branded Visa card, which had been advertised as “the official credit card of the N.R.A.” It gave members of the gun group 5 percent back on gas and sporting-goods purchases. 

Expect more to come. No other big banks are yet ready to announce they are reexamining their relationships with the gun industry, per a survey I did over the weekend. But the lightning-fast success of the consumer protest movement so far all but guarantees that more leading brands will feel compelled to sever ties.

Already, in addition to financial services interests, the list of those dropping partnerships with the NRA include Delta Air Lines and United Airlines; car renters Avis Budget Group, Hertz, and Enterprise; cybersecurity company Symantec; and the auto pricing site TrueCar. 

The corporate convulsion is following an increasingly familiar script in the Trump era. A shock event forces a hot-button political debate to explode on social media; progressives there wrench it into the commercial realm, demanding real-time responses from top companies; then those companies, keen to keep faith with their most prized customers, jump to respond even as elected leaders drag their feet. 

President Trump’s arrival on the scene didn’t create the dynamic. Back in 2015, for example, when then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a “religious freedom” law that critics called a license for businesses to discriminate against gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, marquee names such as Apple, Marriott International, Salesforce, Eli Lilly and Angie’s List helped lead a corporate revolt that forced the state GOP to roll it back. But it undoubtedly picked up steam over the past year, starting when Trump’s attempted travel ban spawned an outpouring of condemnation from leading CEOs on Wall Street and beyond. 

The C-suite opprobrium spilled out again last June, when Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, a decision that prompted this first-ever tweet from Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs:

And as Heather Long and I wrote last month, Blankfein and JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, among others, spoke out last summer when the president defended white supremacists who led a violent rally in Charlottesville: “I strongly disagree with President Trump’s reaction to the events that took place in Charlottesville,” Dimon said. The controversy led CEOs serving on a pair of White House advisory panels — including one led by Blackstone CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman — to disband them

Last week, Merck CEO Ken Frazier, the first advisory panel member to speak up after Charlottesville, elaborated on his decision making in a New York Times interview: “It was my view that to not take a stand on this would be viewed as a tacit endorsement of what had happened and what was said,” Frazier told the paper. “I think words have consequences, and I think actions have consequences. I just felt that as a matter of my own personal conscience, I could not remain,” adding that his board “supported that 100 percent.”

Yet Blankfein, Dimon, and Schwarzman all lavished praise on Trump’s economic stewardship at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month — a reminder that financiers and other corporate brass won’t be joining any street marches against Republicans who are slashing taxes and regulations.

In the gun debate, however, the business case arguably aligns with the political winds that have Republicans edging onto the defensive for the first time in recent memory. The industry, too, is facing decline, as Trump’s election sapped sales by removing fears of a Democratic gun grab. 

Two days before the Parkland shooting, Remington Outdoor Co., which makes AR-15 rifles, filed for bankruptcy. Private-equity giant Cerberus Capital Management acquired the 202-year-old company in 2007 and announced it would sell it in the days following the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. It never found a buyer.


Powell's Hill debut. Fed chair Jerome Powell will make his first trek up Capitol Hill as the top central banker this week, appearing before the House Financial Services Committee starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday and the Senate Banking Committee at 10 a.m. on Thursday. The WSJ's Nick Timiraos highlights what to watch

  • "Financial Markets. Stock markets convulsed earlier this month after bond yields drifted higher, driven in part by signs of strengthening of hourly wage gains. Investors worried the prospect of accelerating economic growth and inflation could prompt the Fed to lift interest rates this year more than anticipated... Watch how Mr. Powell characterizes the implications of current market conditions for Fed policy...
  • Funding Boost... Mr. Powell will explain for the first time publicly how Fed officials view the likely economic effects of the tax cut and spending bill and the implications for central bank policy.
  • Inflation Translation. Fed officials were surprised and puzzled last year by a weakening of price pressures. Inflation now appears to be rising toward the Fed’s 2% target, and central bank staff in January projected the goal would be reached in 2019. Watch how Mr. Powell describes the risks of inflation running higher or lower than forecast and how the Fed might respond...
  • Regulatory Rub. Lawmakers could press Mr. Powell to provide an update on plans the Fed has proposed to rejigger financial rules, including providing more transparency around bank stress tests...

  • Political Pull... Republicans often grilled Ms. Yellen over their concerns with the Fed’s monetary policy, and it will be interesting to see if they give a warmer reception to Mr. Powell, who was nominated to succeed her by President Donald Trump but who has voted consistently to back her policies."

Bond Traders Step Back From 3% to Watch Powell Navigate Fedspeak (Bloomberg)

Dollar-Rate Breakdown Exposes Foreign-Exchange Mystery (WSJ)


SCOTUS takes up labor case. CNN's Ariane de Vogue: "The Supreme Court will wade into a clash between organized labor and conservative groups Monday in a case that could overturn decades-old precedent and deal a potentially crippling blow to public sector unions. The case is one of the most contentious in a pivotal term, and protesters from both sides are expected to flood the Court Monday morning. At the center of the debate is a 1977 Supreme Court opinion known as Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that says while non-members of public sector unions cannot be required to pay fees for a union's political activities, they can be required to pay so-called "fair share" fees pertaining to issues such as employee grievances, physical safety and training."

Buffett's tax windfall. The Post's Tom Heath: "Investor Warren Buffett on Saturday disclosed that the tax legislation signed by President Trump netted a $29 billion windfall to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, the Omaha-based conglomerate he leads. The one-time benefit comes from savings on future taxes that the company would have to pay if it sold about $170 billion in equities, which run from American Express to Apple to Coca-Cola. The taxes on the gains that in some cases have been piling up over decades have dropped from 35 percent to 21 percent under the new tax law. Berkshire’s 2017 gain 'was far from standard: A large portion of our gain did not come from anything we accomplished at Berkshire,' Buffett wrote in his annual letter, released Saturday. The $29 billion 'was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code.'"

Meanwhile, Steyer calls out Pelosi over "crumbs." Washington Examiner's Gabby Morrongiello: "Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer on Saturday urged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to stop referring to savings from the GOP tax plan as "crumbs." 'Nancy was making a point that was true, but she said it in a way that disparaged the amount of money that they were getting,' Steyer said during an appearance at the California Democratic Party convention. The now infamous line by Pelosi – that the bonuses given to American workers because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are "crumbs" – has since been used in several Republican fundraising ads to cast the Democratic Party as out of touch with middle-class Americans."

Dimon's potential successorWSJ's Emily Glazer: "JPMorgan’s 48-year-old chief financial officer, [Marianne] Lake is one of the most senior women on Wall Street and has been on the bank’s short list of possible successors for years, people familiar with its board say. January’s announcement by the bank of executive moves makes her an even more likely contender. In one respect, Ms. Lake would be a historic choice, the first female chief executive of one of the largest U.S. banks. A single mother of three young children, Ms. Lake has already become a role model for women in finance, juggling a high-profile job and family demands."

The bank said Friday its female employees earn 99 percent of its male employees globally, "making it the fifth large U.S. bank to disclose an adjusted gender pay gap of around one percent," per Bloomberg


Trump favors steep tariffs. The president "has told confidants that he wants to impose the harshest tariffs on steel and aluminum imports recommended by the Commerce Department, according to three people familiar with the matter," Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs scooped on Friday. "Trump has said he wants to slap a global tariff of 24 percent on steel imports, the most severe of three options presented to him in a report in January. He’s also considering as much as a 10 percent duty on all aluminum entering the U.S., which would be more than 2.5 percentage points higher than the harshest of Commerce’s recommendations."

Per Axios's Jonathan Swan, Trump in fact favors a 25 percent global tariff on steel, since it's a round number. More from Swan: The White House "is preparing to impose tariffs on a 'shit ton' — meaning, potentially hundreds — of Chinese products. They'll avoid going through the World Trade Organization — which Trump doesn't trust — and instead use Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to unilaterally retaliate against China for stealing Americans’ intellectual property."

Navarro rising. Politico's Andrew Restuccia: "White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who was sidelined last year after repeatedly clashing with... Trump’s more moderate advisers, could soon be granted a title change that would give him more direct influence over the administration’s trade agenda, according to three people familiar with the issue. White House chief of staff John Kelly in September folded Navarro’s Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy into the National Economic Council, mandating that Navarro report to NEC Director Gary Cohn. The move kept Navarro out of some high-level meetings of principles on trade, and forced him to work under Cohn, with whom he has loudly disagreed in closed-door trade discussions at the White House in recent months. Now, White House aides are strongly considering promoting Navarro to assistant to the president for trade policy, according to the people. The new title would ensure that he has a seat at the table at a pivotal moment for trade, and it would grant him access to the daily senior staff meeting."

Nieto cancels visit. The Post's Phil Rucker, Joshua Partlow and Nick Miroff: "Tentative plans for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to make his first visit to the White House to meet with President Trump were scuttled this week after a testy call between the two leaders ended in an impasse over Trump’s promised border wall, according to U.S. and Mexican officials. Peña Nieto was eyeing an official trip to Washington this month or in March, but both countries agreed to call off the plan after Trump would not agree to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not fund construction of a border wall that the Mexican people widely consider offensive, said the officials."

As Mexico, Canada aim for NAFTA progress. Reuters's Anthony Esposito, Sharay Angulo: "Mexico and Canada aim to finish reworking less contentious chapters of the NAFTA trade deal with the United States in new talks that began on Sunday, hoping to clear the path for a breakthrough on the toughest issues before upcoming elections... Once agreement is reached on technical chapters such as state-owned enterprises, barriers to trade and e-commerce, about 10 percent of the modernized accord would eventually be left over for political leaders to work out."

White House Legal Team Considers Ways Trump Could Testify Before Mueller (WSJ)


CFIUS poised to expand. FT's Shawn Donnan: "The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (Cfius) is one of the most powerful — and enigmatic — regulators in the world. An inter-agency committee that brings together defence and intelligence staff with economic policymakers, it was created to vet inbound foreign investment for potential national security threats. Yet reforms being pushed by... Trump and contained in a bill now working its way through Congress would, if enacted, expand its workload from a few hundred transactions a year to potentially thousands. And like so much of economic policymaking in Washington these days, it has one target in mind: China and its appetite for US intellectual property."

Key tax official quits. WSJ's Richard Rubin: "A Treasury Department official deeply involved in implementing the new tax law left the government unexpectedly this week. Dana Trier, a retired New York attorney praised by fellow tax lawyers in both parties, was a deputy assistant secretary for tax policy, putting him near the center of administration decision-making about how to write the crucial and highly technical rules stemming from the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Accountants, tax lawyers and businesses have been watching his actions and speeches closely for clues on how the Trump Administration will enforce complex new deductions for pass-through businesses, restrictions on business interest deductions and other matters."



  • The National Association for Business Economics conference continues.

Coming Up

  • Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will testify before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday.
  • The Brookings Institution holds an event with former Fed chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke on Tuesday.
  • The House Ways and Means committee holds a markup on Tuesday.
  • The American Enterprise Institute holds an event on “Eliminating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac without legislation” on Tuesday.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce holds the 2018 Invest in America summit on Tuesday.
  • The House Small Business Committee holds a hearing on “How Red Tape Affects Community Banks and Credit Unions: A GAO Report: on Tuesday.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on “Deepening U.S.-India Trade Ties: Focus on States” on Wednesday.
  • The Hamilton Project holds an event on “How to Get American Workers a Raise: Policies to Revitalize Wage Growth” on Wednesday.
  • The Brookings Institution holds an event on Trump’s trade policy in Asia on Wednesday.
  • The Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee holds a hearing on the nomination of John F. Ring to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday.

Watch President Trump's CPAC address, in three minutes: 

President Trump's Conservative Political Action Conference speech covered many topics, including school safety, the 2018 elections and Trump's past grievances. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

What's the deal with the NRA, firearms and background checks?:

A national database that screens potential gun buyers has become a hot topic, but the NRA's claims about it skip some history. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

Trevor Noah says he admires how the Parkland school shooting survivors won't take no for an answer: