Stocks ended the session mixed and little changed. Investors reacted cautiously to hints of trade protectionism coming from the G20 summit of global financial leaders, which ended yesterday.
The Dow fell 8 points, with 18 of its 30 components gaining; the S&P 500 Index slipped by 4 points; and the Nasdaq rose less than a point. Decliners topped advancers by about three to two on the NYSE and by about five to three on the Nasdaq. Treasury prices strengthened. Gold futures increased $3.80 to close at $1,234.00 an ounce. Crude-oil futures fell 40 cents to settle at $48.91 a barrel.
In other business news:
- The G20 summit of industrialized and developing nations wrapped up a weekend of tense discussions about global trade. At the urging of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, G20 finance officials removed language from a closely watched policy statement about the group resisting all forms of protectionism. In interviews, Mnuchin reiterated the Trump administration’s aim to rebalance existing trade pacts to benefit the U.S.
- The Chicago Federal Reserve’s index of national economic activity edged up 0.34 in February, following January’s revised 0.02 decline. Employment-related economic indicators led the index’s gains, contributing 0.21. Production-related indicators contributed 0.09, thanks to increased factory production.
- British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to file paperwork on March 29 for the U.K. to exit the European Union, thus launching two years of negotiations over Brexit’s terms. While May will seek a beneficial trade deal, EU officials don’t believe Britain should benefit from leaving the union, partially out of concern it could embolden other member nations to leave the bloc.
By the look of 2017’s automotive headlines, you might think the biggest innovation that carmakers are pouring money into are start-ups that build vehicles that drive themselves. IHS Automotive projects that 21 million fully or semi-autonomous vehicles will be sold globally in 2035.
But what’s an automaker to do in the near-term, when ride-hailing and car-sharing companies are already making car ownership itself a less urgent expense for consumers to take on? According to Reuters, luxury brand Porsche is attempting to offset an expected decline in future car sales by ramping up another part of its business: high-tech auto innovations.
Porsche plans to spend 200 million to 300 million euros per year developing so-called mobility services. These include a software app that directs drivers to available parking spaces and another app that offers real-time weather data to warn drivers about icy roads.
The in-house unit that builds the technology will grow its staff from 100 to 500 workers in coming years. Porsche expects the unit to generate at least 10% of annual revenue in the medium term. Or as Reuters positions it, an $89,400 Porsche 911 sports car would generate at least $9,000 from its in-car technology services.
Will Porsche’s shift pay off? Tough to tell. Frankly, some of the high-tech offerings the automaker is working on already exist. There are free apps for finding parking spaces and getting updates on troublesome road conditions. More important, the move is symbolic of a company that—to survive in the future—will need drivers to still want to be… drivers.
If and when the era of self-driving cars begins, to what extent will most consumers care if their robo-chaffeur is a sensible sedan or a $90,000 sports car? In 2035, Porsche will still need at least a portion of the population to care about things like horsepower.
Now factor in a future in which people not only cease driving themselves; they can also rely on a ride-sharing company’s local branch office to deliver an autonomous car to their home for easy pick-up. If this becomes the widespread trend (scary as it may be), will sports cars still matter as much?
For the discerning consumer who wants to arrive at a party in only the finest of sports cars, perhaps Uber’s eventual self-driving car unit will offer a Porsche edition. Sure, you don’t look as cool if you’re not actually driving a Porsche yourself, but just think of how impressed everyone will be by all the blinking gadgets that surround you as the door opens.