Wall Street Breakfast: A New Tone

A new tone

There’s a fresh chapter trying to be written in the Brexit story that has enveloped the U.K. since an EU membership referendum in 2016. While tensions have lingered around the bloc that Britain once counted itself a part of, things have been further complicated by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has been in place since 2020. That agreement followed years of negotiations on how to govern trade following Brexit, and sought to prevent a hard border from being erected between the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK).

Backdrop: At the time, the protocol was seen as essential to protect a 1998 peace deal that brought an end to the decades of sectarian violence – often referred to as “The Troubles” – but eventually exposed other divisions by creating a border in the Irish Sea between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. Communities that strongly identified as British in the latter region despised the arrangement, saying it isolated them from the U.K., while some British companies severed ties with Northern Ireland businesses due to increased paperwork. A trade war also threatened to erupt after the U.K. repudiated and even threatened to override parts of the agreement that left Northern Ireland in the EU’s single markets for goods.

Looking to take a different direction, Rishi Sunak (the third U.K. prime minister within a year) is aiming to heal ties with the EU, while pushing euro-skeptic MPs in his party and the DUP in Northern Ireland to get on board. He just unveiled a new “Windsor Framework” with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that would set two classifications of goods that traverse the Irish Sea: a “green lane” for Northern Ireland with minimal checks, and a “red lane” that would be subject to higher scrutiny and documentation for things destined to move into Ireland and the EU. The framework also includes tax policy amendments, provisions for medicines and a sovereignty mechanism called the “Stormont brake.”

Go deeper: The developments come at a time when European unity is threatened by Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. President Biden also applauded the Windsor Framework, calling it an “essential step to ensuring hard-earned peace is preserved and strengthened,” while Sunak further sees the deal as helping out the U.K. economy, which has recently seen fruit and vegetable shortages add another curveball to the inflationary environment. While there have been some signs of a business rebound, Britain remains the only G7 economy still smaller than before the coronavirus pandemic, and the Bank of England doesn’t expect a recovery to its pre-COVID peak until 2026.

Disney vs. DeSantis

“The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared, after signing a bill that gives the state control over Walt Disney World’s (NYSE:DIS) self-governing district. The move was a long time coming, and follows the “Don’t Say Gay” tussle between Disney and Florida’s legislature last year (see more on the controversy here). DeSantis will be able to appoint a five-member board that will have external oversight over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which has its own tax and bond authority, and it will no longer be exempt from certain state codes and regulations. The “new red tape may dissuade DIS’ new infrastructure investments in Florida for the intermediate term,” SA contributor Juxtaposed Ideas writes in an article that discusses other impacts on the company’s theme parks. (29 comments)

Retail on the radar

Target (TGT) is due to publish its Q4 earnings in the premarket hours, kicking off a session that will also include quarterly reports of Costco (COST), Dollar Tree (DLTR), Macy’s (M) and Kohl’s (KSS). It follows some cautious commentary across the retail sector from the likes of Walmart (WMT) and Home Depot (HD) as well as toy manufacturer Hasbro (HAS) and discount retailer Dollar General (DG). While Target’s stock has marked a double-digit gain since the start of 2023, rebounding from a sharp decline in 2022, shares have faltered slightly amid a spate of less than optimistic commentary from many peers. Today’s guidance could be an issue for Target even if Q4 earnings exceed tempered expectations, but big beats or commentary on the strength of the consumer heading into 2023 will also be pivotal in determining the investor reaction. (6 comments)

Rollable screens

Techies are gathering in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress, which kicked off yesterday and runs through March 2. The trade show brings together mobile operators, device manufacturers, technology providers and engineers to present their latest work and share their vision of the future. The 2023 theme is “Velocity: Unleashing tomorrow’s technology – today,” with categories spanning the acceleration of 5G to immersive experiences and the metaverse. On the electronics front, Motorola showed off a smartphone concept with a rollable screen that can extend vertically (from 5″ to 6.5″), while parent company Lenovo (OTCPK:LNVGY) unveiled a laptop with similar technology (from 12.7″ to 15.3″) that features a compact design with a bigger display.