Stocks turn mixed, dollar faces rate hike uncertainty

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Share markets turned mixed in Asia on Monday amid conflicting signals on the prospects for a truce in the Sino-U.S. trade dispute, while the Federal Reserve’s newly-found concerns over the global economy constrained the dollar.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dithered either side of flat through a sluggish session. Chinese blue chips manage to add 0.5 percent, as did Japan’s Nikkei.

But E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 slipped 0.36 percent and spread betters pointed to modest opening losses for the major European bourses.

Wall Street had firmed on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump said that he may not impose more tariffs on Chinese goods after Beijing sent a list of measures it was willing to take to resolve trade tensions.

The comment stoked speculation of a deal when Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina later this month.

However, Sino-U.S. tensions were clearly on display at an APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea over the weekend, where leaders failed to agree on a communique for the first time ever.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a blunt speech that there would be no end to U.S. tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods until China changed its ways.

“The comments from Trump were seen as offering a glimmer of hope that further tariff action could be held in abeyance,” said NAB’s head of FX strategy, Ray Attrill.

“The exchange of barbs between Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping in PNG on the weekend continues to suggest this is unlikely.”

SENSING A FED SHIFT

Also uncertain was the outlook for U.S. interest rates.

Federal Reserve policymakers are still signaling rate increases ahead but also sounded more concerned about a potential global slowdown, leading markets to suspect the tightening cycle may not have much further to run.

“Fed officials are having an easier time showing a slightly less hawkish leaning by noting the emerging global slowdown,” said Deutsche Bank’s macro strategist Alan Ruskin.

“It’s undercutting expectations of rate hikes moving above ‘neutral’,” which the Fed has nominated as between 2.5 and 3 percent. “This shift in tone is subtle, but fits with the more bullish bond market tone of late, and is starting to have a material impact on the dollar.”

That will focus attention on an appearance by New York Fed President John Williams later on Monday to see if he echoes the same theme.

Investors have already lengthened the odds on further hikes, with a December move now priced at 73 percent, down from over 90 percent. Futures imply rates around 2.74 percent for the end of next year, compared to 2.93 percent early this month. <0#FF:>

Yields on U.S. 10-year paper have duly declined to 3.06 percent, from a recent top of 3.25 percent.

The dollar followed to hover at 96.509 against a basket of currencies, down from a peak of 97.693. The euro was parked at $1.1400, while the dollar backed off to 112.72 yen.

Sterling remained vulnerable at $1.2826 after political turmoil over Brexit caused steep losses last week.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday that toppling her would risk delaying Brexit as she faces the possibility of a leadership challenge from within her own party.

With both pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers unhappy with the draft agreement, it is not clear she will be able to win the backing of parliament, raising the risk Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

In commodity markets, gold found support from the drop in the dollar and held at $1,1220.19.

Oil prices suffered their sixth straight week of losses last week, but have found some aid from expectations the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would cut output.

Brent crude was up 54 cents at $67.30 a barrel, while U.S. crude gained 70 cents to $57.16.

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Climate change clean-up is now a future-proof business

The disturbing television pictures this year of the fearful damage inflicted by nature is an ever-present reminder of the catastrophic effects of climate change, no matter how people like Donald Trump may choose to deny it.

Heartbreaking scenes like the magnificent Piazza San Marco in Venice being battered by floods, though not unprecedented, seem to be getting worse.

The so-called hurricane season that was once someone else’s problem has become a serious concern in this country. But can that which cannot be avoided be managed? The company we are examining today may have some of these answers.

It is ambitious British equipment rental specialist Ashtead, which has helped the clean-up efforts after storms and hurricanes that have devastated the US in recent years. The company rents out all sorts of equipment from small hand tools to excavators which can lift, move, dig, pump or generate power. In short, do precisely what’s required after a natural disaster.

Ashtead has been operating in America since the 1990s. Its offshoot, Sunbelt Rentals, has more than 750 locations in 46 states, generating £3.1bn (€3.5bn) in revenues and is now the second biggest equipment rental company in the US.

While maintaining a headquarters outside London, its British network is much smaller than the US, yet Ashtead is the largest rental group in the UK, with 200 locations, and revenues just under £500m.

The group’s small operation in Canada has been boosted by the recent acquisition of Ontario-based competitor CRC, which adds scale to its network and gives it access to the eastern Canadian market.

The group provides a wide range of rental equipment and solutions to a large number of customers. This includes all types of equipment for the construction industry such as forklifts, power saws, excavators, scaffolding and portable traffic systems for major projects.

Interestingly it also generates power, lighting and other equipment for concerts, festivals and even the US Super Bowl.

The concept of Ashtead’s business model is simple and resembles what used to happen in the Irish TV rental market years ago.

The group buys a broad range of equipment directly from manufacturers, and rents it out to a range of customers on a short-term basis.

After a period of time (five to 10 years) it sells the old equipment into the second-hand market, recovering a proportion of the original price.

Ashtead has executed its strategy flawlessly and its track record over the last five years has been impressive. Revenues have more than doubled to £3.7bn, helped recently by a weaker pound.

Pretax profits are 2.6 times higher in the same period of time and it trades today with a healthy 28pc operating profit margin.

Last year its US operations saw revenues jump 15pc, benefiting from strong markets and the impact of hurricanes. Its UK rental business saw rental income increase but margins were lower. First quarter results this year show a weakening in margins, but revenues and profits rose more than one-fifth and net debt fell slightly.

The group continues to ramp up investment to capitalise on growth potential, increasing its capital expenditure by almost a fifth. Its shares have taken a hit in the October market fall and now hover around £19 a share, 20pc below the yearly high.

But investors are pleased that it continues to underpin its share, announcing a £1bn buyback last December.

The strong dollar also helps its revenues. If the climate keeps changing Ashtead will benefit, and the strength of its balance sheet and free cash flow will continue to allow the company its bolt-on acquisition strategy and expand its geographic footprint.

While the group plans to achieve double-digit growth for the next three years, it is well to remember this is a cyclical industry.

Nothing in this section should be taken as a recommendation, either explicit or implicit to buy any of the shares mentioned.

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Asia shares inch up, Fed caution curbs dollar

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares crept cautiously higher on Monday amid conflicting signals on the chance of a truce in the Sino-U.S. trade dispute, while the Federal Reserve’s new-found concern on the global economy undermined the dollar.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan tacked on 0.1 percent and Chinese blue chips 0.5 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei gained 0.4 percent, but E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 slipped 0.3 percent.

Wall Street had firmed on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump said that he may not impose more tariffs on Chinese goods after Beijing sent a list of measures it was willing to take to resolve trade tensions.

The comment stoked speculation of a deal when Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina later this month.

However, Sino-U.S. tensions were clearly on display at an APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea over the weekend, where leaders failed to agree on a communique for the first time ever.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a blunt speech that there would be no end to U.S. tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods until China changed its ways.

“The comments from Trump were seen as offering a glimmer of hope that further tariff action could be held in abeyance,” said NAB’s head of FX strategy, Ray Attrill.

“The exchange of barbs between Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping in PNG on the weekend continues to suggest this is unlikely.”

SENSING A FED SHIFT

Also uncertain was the outlook for U.S. interest rates.

Federal Reserve policymakers are still signaling rate increases ahead but also sounded more concerned about a potential global slowdown, leading markets to suspect the tightening cycle may not have much further to run.

“Fed officials are having an easier time showing a slightly less hawkish leaning by noting the emerging global slowdown,” said Deutsche Bank’s macro strategist Alan Ruskin.

“It’s undercutting expectations of rate hikes moving above ‘neutral’,” which the Fed has nominated as between 2.5 and 3 percent. “This shift in tone is subtle, but fits with the more bullish bond market tone of late, and is starting to have a material impact on the dollar.”

That will focus attention on an appearance by New York Fed President John Williams later on Monday to see if he echoes the same theme.

Investors have already lengthened the odds on further hikes, with a December move now priced at 73 percent, down from over 90 percent. Futures imply rates around 2.74 percent for the end of next year, compared to 2.93 percent early this month. <0#FF:>

Yields on U.S. 10-year paper have duly declined to 3.06 percent, from a recent top of 3.25 percent.

The dollar followed to reach 96.441 against a basket of currencies, down from a peak of 97.693. The euro was up at $1.1414, while the dollar backed off to 112.66 yen.

Sterling remained vulnerable at $1.2833 after political turmoil over Brexit caused steep losses last week.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday toppling her would risk delaying Brexit as she faces the possibility of a leadership challenge from within her own party.

With both pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers unhappy with the draft agreement, it is not clear she will be able to win the backing of parliament, raising the risk Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

In commodity markets, gold found support from the drop in the dollar and held firm at $1,1221.92.

Oil prices suffered their sixth straight week of losses last week, but have found some aid from expectations the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would cut output.

Brent crude was up 72 cents at $67.48 a barrel, while U.S. crude gained 76 cents to $57.22.

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German transport minister wants to welcome Uber, others by 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer wants to open the German market to car pooling services offered by Uber and other companies by 2021, Focus magazine reported Saturday.

Scheuer told Focus in an interview that online taxi services and pooling services could help provide critical services in rural areas, and he wanted to change existing regulations to permit their operation.

“We can create new possibilities, especially in rural areas and for older people, with car services and pooling systems,” said Scheuer, a member of the Bavarian conservatives. “That is a giant opportunity.”

Current law bans drivers from accepting contracts directly from individuals, reserving that right for taxi drivers licensed by local authorities.

“I’m against bans and limits. I’m for incentives,” Scheuer told the magazine. “We can’t just exclude a service provider.”

At the same time, he said, taxi services would clearly be affected and their interests also had to be taken into consideration.

Germany has been a difficult market for Uber given the strict regulatory environment. The company’s app allows users to order licensed taxis in Berlin and Munich, and Uber has said it hopes to have a presence in every major German city by 2020.

Uber operates in many parts of Europe, but offers different services, depending on local regulations.

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As UK counts cost of exit, EU has shown its value to us

At the core of the Brexit project has been the idea to “take back control”, by reasserting UK parliamentary sovereignty. It would be ironic if the Brexit process now leads to Westminster losing control.

After 20 months of negotiations, this week the British government agreed a UK-EU withdrawal treaty, which would be expected to be formally rubber-stamped at a specially convened European Council summit in Brussels on November 25.

However, all eyes have shifted to the UK domestic politics of Brexit. Given the ongoing political drama in London, it is unclear whether the UK parliament will back the Withdrawal Agreement.

A lot for Ireland is riding on how Westminster votes (expected shortly before Christmas). Worryingly, many seasoned British observers say the treaty may not pass.

Within the Conservative party, both hard-line Brexiteer and committed Remainer MPs say they will vote against the agreement. The DUP, which props up the Conservative government, are also adamant they will vote No.

It seems Mrs May will need votes from pro-Brexit MPs in the Labour Party, in part because the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists have already declared against it. Labour’s position on Brexit has not always been clear, but shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has said it will vote against the government in the hope of bringing about a general election and/or another referendum.

What happens if Westminster votes down the EU-UK treaty? No one knows, except political turmoil will likely ensue. But there are two procedural options. The first is that the UK crashes out of the EU at the end of March 2019 (the current official deadline), a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

The second is London and Brussels agree to extend withdrawal negotiations, with the UK remaining in the EU until the political impasse is resolved. There currently appears to be little parliamentary appetite for a potentially disastrous no-deal Brexit, a scenario that could lead to a hard Border in Ireland.

An alternative could be continuing negotiations – this would require a formal request from the UK government to the other EU governments to agree to an extension.

That could be led by a new prime minister as Mrs May might not survive a parliamentary defeat of the treaty (and she may face a leadership challenge in the meantime).

But would a disunited Tory Party quickly unite around a new party leader? Or might a general election be necessary, as Labour wants, if parliament cannot find a majority for a new government? Alternatively, might even a national unity government emerge, as some MPs have called for?

And what might a new government then do: try to renegotiate with the EU, or even decide to hold another referendum? All bets would be off.

Alongside ongoing no-deal preparations, the EU would likely respond favourably to a British request to extend the Brexit deadline beyond the end of March. Yet Brussels would not be keen on a lengthy extension. Otherwise, the UK – which would still be an EU member – could be obliged to hold elections to the European Parliament in mid-May, which would greatly complicate decision-making.

However, if the UK government declared it would not only hold another referendum, but would also be prepared to campaign to remain in the EU, Brussels would surely find a way to extend the UK’s stay to allow time for that.

Signs are that Westminster ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement is not a foregone conclusion. But a week is a very long time in Brexit politics, and the Westminster vote will not be held for at least another four to five weeks.

This week’s EU-UK agreement was an outstanding diplomatic achievement for Ireland. It relied on impressive solidarity from the other 26 remaining EU member states, the European Parliament and the European Council, as well as the skill and determination of the European Commission negotiators.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, as the UK confronts the price of Brexit, the EU has shown its value to Ireland.

Noelle O’Connell is executive director of the European Movement Ireland

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Channing Dungey, First Black Entertainment Executive at a Major Network, Is Leaving ABC

Channing Dungey, the first black executive to run the entertainment division at a major network, is leaving ABC, the company announced Friday.

The move was announced just a few months before The Walt Disney Company, ABC’s corporate parent, is expected to finish its acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox, which will greatly expand the company’s television holdings. The expanded Disney television empire will be overseen by longtime Fox executives.

Ms. Dungey was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year when the network made the sudden decision to cancel “Roseanne” after the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, sent a racist tweet. Ms. Dungey was widely praised for her public comments, referring to Ms. Barr’s tweet as “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.”

But ABC has also struggled mightily in the ratings during Ms. Dungey’s tenure as the network’s entertainment president, which began in 2016. It is once again in last place among the broadcast networks.

Ms. Dungey will be replaced by Karey Burke, a programming executive at the youth-oriented cable network Freeform.

“This job has been the highlight of my career,” Ms. Dungey said in a statement. “While I’ve loved every moment, and knew I could call ABC home for many years to come, I’m excited to tackle new challenges.”

Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said in a statement: “I’m grateful to Channing for her significant contributions and unwavering dedication to the success of ABC over the past 14 years. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to work with and mentor Channing; her curiosity, passion and creativity will ensure she is successful in whatever path she chooses going forward.”

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Google Cloud names Thomas Kurian to replace CEO Diane Greene

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Former Oracle Corp product chief Thomas Kurian will replace Diane Greene as head of the cloud division at Alphabet Inc’s Google in the coming weeks, Greene announced in a blog post on Friday, after a tumultuous year for the business.

Greene said she had joined Google three years ago with plans to leave after two years and will move into investing and philanthropy in January. She will remain on Alphabet’s board.

Kurian, who spent 22 years at Oracle and had been a close confidante of its founder Larry Ellison, resigned in September after struggling to expand its cloud business.

Greene has served as chief executive of Google Cloud; Kurian will be senior vice president for Google Cloud, a company spokesman said.

Google announced in February that the cloud division, which sells computing services, online data storage and productivity software such as email and spreadsheet tools, was generating more than $1 billion in quarterly revenue.

It faced a setback months later when thousands of Google employees revolted against Greene’s unit supplying the U.S. military with artificial intelligence tools to aid in analyzing drone imagery. Greene responded by announcing the deal would not be renewed.

The backlash over military work prompted an internal committee of top employees to issue company wide principles to govern the use of Google’s artificial intelligence systems, including a ban on using them to develop weaponry. The move essentially limited the cloud unit’s potential customer base.

Google also bowed out from bidding for a $10 billion military cloud computing contract, citing its lack of certifications to handle sensitive data.

Closing and extending such deals would have given Google Cloud a major boost as it tries to catch up to rivals Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp. Oracle’s cloud business trails Google’s.

Steve Koenig, a financial analyst following Oracle for Wedbush Securities, said Kurian is better positioned at Google to drive business sales growth than at his former employer.

“Like Diane Greene, Kurian has serious enterprise chops,” Koenig said. “Google clearly remains serious about scaling up its enterprise business.”

Greene said Kurian interviewed with her, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and long-time infrastructure chief Urs Hölzle and will join Google on Nov. 26.

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To Gauge Concerns About Brexit, Look at British Bonds

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The British pound is the most sensitive barometer of Brexit fears. The currency slumps each time it looks more likely that Britain may crash out of the European Union without a deal. At the same time, however, British government bond prices strengthen because bleak economic prospects mean higher interest rates are less likely. The clearest sign that investors have had enough of the United Kingdom would be when both weaken at the same time.

Britain’s currency and its government bonds, known as gilts, have tended to react to political turmoil by moving in opposite directions. The pound fell nearly 2 percent against the dollar and euro on Thursday after a string of cabinet resignations cast doubt on the future of Prime Minister Theresa May and her draft Brexit deal. But even as the pound suffered its worst day since Oct. 2016, gilts rallied. The yield, which drops when prices rise, on 10-year UK government bonds fell more than 10 basis points, to as low as 1.35 percent.

Even more telling was that British sovereign debt performed better than German and American alternatives. That would not have been the case if investors had become wary of Britain altogether. The gap between the yield on gilts and German bonds narrowed by roughly 10 basis points on Thursday. Meanwhile 10-year United States government bonds yielded as much as 174 basis points more than comparable gilts — the widest difference since 1984.

Like currency traders, bond investors think that the British economy would be damaged by a chaotic no-deal Brexit. But they believe this would force the Bank of England governor Mark J. Carney to defer further interest rate rises, which is typically good for debt prices. That investors can still apply normal bond logic shows that they are not yet panicky.

It would take a full-blown pound crisis for the British central bank to respond by raising rates, ignoring the temporary slump in the pound as it did after the 2016 Brexit referendum. If bond investors believed that was likely, they would be as keen to ditch gilts as currency traders are to sell pounds.

For now, however, Britain’s political crisis has yet to become a financial one.

Swaha Pattanaik is global economics editor of Reuters Breakingviews. For more independent commentary and analysis, visit breakingviews.com

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Why G.E.’s Credit Problem Is a Warning to All Debt Investors

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General Electric may be the canary in the credit market’s coal mine.

The company’s bonds fell sharply this week even as an asset sale briefly lifted its shares. That’s a warning shot for all debt investors. American companies owe more money than ever, and the quality of their loans and bonds has deteriorated. Rising interest rates and slowing growth could make this a big problem.

The ailing $75 billion conglomerate is an extreme case, but it exemplifies much of what has happened in corporate America and around the world over the past decade. Historically low interest rates fueled a massive borrowing boom, enabling healthy companies to expand operations or buy back shares, and zombies to keep staggering along.

United States nonfinancial corporate debt stands at a record level of more than 73 percent of gross domestic product, according to the Bank for International Settlements. It never exceeded 65 percent before the 2008 financial crisis. France’s corporate debt-to-G.D.P. ratio has risen by nearly a third over the past decade, and China’s by more than two-thirds.

This growing quantity has been accompanied by a marked decline in quality. G.E., which recently lost its coveted single-A credit rating, is again illustrative. Many other U.S. companies have been downgraded. As a result, the debt of those carrying triple-B ratings — the lowest investment-grade category — more than doubled from pre-crisis days to a record $2.7 trillion at the end of 2017, according to S&P Global Ratings.

At the same time the United States junk-bond market has swelled to more than $1.2 trillion and leveraged loans now total $1.3 trillion, much of it in so-called covenant-lite products with few investor protections. That prompted Senator Elizabeth Warren on Thursday to warn that leveraged lending “exhibits many of the characteristics” of the subprime mortgage boom that triggered the 2008 financial crisis.

Up until now, many investors have shrugged off such risks, comforted by surging corporate earnings — which were up nearly 29 percent for the S&P 500 index in the third quarter of 2018. But earnings growth is expected to drop into single digits next year, according to estimates from the data and insights company Refinitiv . Meanwhile the expected interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve next month will ratchet up the cost of borrowing.

The numbers don’t add up to a crisis yet, but the trend is heading in that direction.

Tom Buerkle is associate editor of Reuters Breakingviews. For more independent commentary and analysis, visit breakingviews.com

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He Was 302 Pounds, but in This Battle, He’s David and Not Goliath

Eric Winston took a beating for five teams over the course of his 12-year N.F.L. career, and this little anecdote, honestly, could be about any of them. So set aside for a moment which team it was (it was the Arizona Cardinals, in 2013) and just close your eyes and picture Mr. Winston at his apex: 6-foot-7, 302 pounds, shoulders square and flat like a base camp at the foot of a sheer cliff to the top of his head, exhausted from smashing into things for hours, and lumbering into a training facility for his post-practice treatment.

Mr. Winston was lucky enough to be relatively healthy at the time. But it was the season he turned 30, on the down slope of his career as an offensive lineman, at a moment in National Football League history when the long-term cognitive damage that football can do was becoming more undeniable by the day. This was his job, and his body was his livelihood, and right now it really, really hurt.

Wanting only to let his muscles start their slow recovery for the next practice, Mr. Winston plunged into an ice bath. And then kept plunging. Even though he’s nearly seven feet tall on his tiptoes, he had to tread water because, for no discernible reason, the ice tubs were a baffling eight feet deep.

“You had to put a stool in it,” Mr. Winston said recently over lunch in Washington, D.C., near the headquarters of the N.F.L. Players Association, where he has a second job — a kind of pro bono side hustle — as union president. “Then you’d press it down because you were in the cold tub and you didn’t want to go all the way down. You had to submerge a stool to stand on.” Mr. Winston’s employer was a profit-sharing partner in a multibillion-dollar syndicate — one of the few truly risk-free ventures in American commerce. And it couldn’t be bothered to provide an ice tub that required no active effort to avoid drowning.

Mr. Winston, who turns 35 this month, is sturdily handsome in a Thanos kind of way, though less gloomy and better with a one-liner, and instead of infinity stones he’s pursuing an executive M.B.A. on weekends at the Wharton School of Business. He talks rapidly, but every word is enunciated, crystal clear and dense with information. Everyone contacted about Mr. Winston for this article said that they were sure he’d one day run for office, and that they look forward to voting for him. Some already have: In March, he was re-elected by the players, unanimously, to his third two-year term as union president.

Of the many challenges Mr. Winston faces, a meta one is this: a lack of sympathy for his constituents because they are assumed to be coddled millionaires. Hence his eagerness to point out that the work of an N.F.L. player is far from glamorous. In 2013, by the time Mr. Winston and his colleagues were pushing stools into ice water, trying to keep them from floating up and conking them in the face, the Cardinals’ facility was 23 years old. (The space got an upgrade after Mr. Winston left the team.) By now, rookies from major college programs — Texas A&M, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State — are routinely “taking a step down in facilities when they go to the pros,” Mr. Winston said.

“There’s some owners that look at that and say, ‘I’m going to invest in my team, I’m going to invest in my players,’” Mr. Winston said, citing the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Rooney family, which owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. “And then there’s some owners who look at it and say, ‘Eh. PB&Js for everybody.’” Mr. Winston spent just one year in Arizona, but he’d been around the league long enough to know that this sort of treatment was par for the course, and that was before he played for Cincinnati. (To be fair, he said, the Cardinals weren’t total cheapskates: “The team was nice enough to provide the stool.”)

Mr. Winston is an unusual Players Association boss because he is not currently on an N.F.L. roster — nor does he want to be. He’s done. He was planning to retire two summers ago, but in 2017, the Bengals brought him back for the final two months of the season, for which he earned the veteran minimum, $80,000 a game. At some point, Mr. Winston realized he was playing football mostly so he could keep doing the union job, the one his heart was really in.

His on-field career is over, but now he has 18 more months as a player emeritus to complete a lifetime of work and, perhaps more important, help the union gear up for a gathering holy war with ownership: the renegotiation of the N.F.L.’s current collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2020 season.

For Mr. Winston, it’s not a race to the finish. It’s an all-out sprint uphill. He represents the largest union of its kind, a Balkanized group of 2,000 headstrong men with a million divergent interests. He’s pitted against dozens of the richest, most secretive, best-organized people in American business — not to mention the president of the United States, who spent last autumn lobbing tweet grenades at N.F.L. players exercising free speech. And it’s all happening against the backdrop of a sport with so much built-in violence that parents and school districts are increasingly forbidding their children from playing it, a trend line that in theory could kill off the sport entirely.

‘It’s All About Control. Even More Than Money’

There’s a consensus among players that the deal they got in the last C.B.A. — which looked decent enough at the time — has not aged well, and management seems to agree: The owners keep talking about an “extension” of the current deal, as if everything’s hunky-dory. Meanwhile, Mr. Winston and the N.F.L.P.A.’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, 54, a labor lawyer who runs the union day-to-day, keep suggesting in public remarks that a work stoppage — either a lockout or a strike — is inevitable, using phrases like “Guys need to prepare to miss paychecks.”

Owners have heard such posturing before. It’s Mr. Winston’s job to make sure they believe it. And this time, things really are different. It’s no exaggeration to say that the tension between N.F.L. players and franchise owners is higher than it’s ever been, and it goes well beyond traditional labor conflicts and into issues of basic human worth. Too often, the players feel, owners must be dragged into treating them like they’re human beings, rather than glorified auto parts.

“Guys are fed up,” said Andrew Whitworth, an All Pro left tackle and Mr. Winston’s former teammate in Cincinnati, who now plays for the Los Angeles Rams. “The game right now — as strong as it is, as much money as is being made, and you’ve got a commissioner out there making the kind of money he’s making, guys are getting frustrated with how teams treat players in general sometimes. They’re getting tired of it.”

They’ve noticed that the training facilities are inferior, but the opioid painkillers are plentiful.

They’ve noticed the way front offices treat head coaches like demigods, but a player can get cut and never receive another penny if he sprains his ankle at the wrong time. Or how the ESPN analyst Jon Gruden can get a $100 million coaching contract from the Raiders and then, later, trade the N.F.L.’s most dominant defensive player, Khalil Mack, in order to save money. “The thing that made me laugh the hardest about that whole gong show,” said Mr. Winston, “was when they said Mack’s demands were too high.”

Players have noticed that Colin Kaepernick had his career destroyed because he knelt during the national anthem to protest race-based police brutality, while team owners can express bigotry and act repugnantly with something like impunity. The Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, for instance, may have lost his franchise last year, but not before he secured a legally binding promise that his statue would remain in front of the Panthers’ stadium in perpetuity.

Players noticed when the Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, Mr. Winston’s old boss, told a roomful of owners and N.F.L. executives gathered to address the Kaepernick controversy that players needed to knock off the kneeling because “we can’t have the inmates running the prison.” And they really noticed when Mr. McNair, after first being pressured into a high-profile apology for the remark, made a much less public retraction of the apology a month later.

And players have noticed all kinds of tiny nuances in How Things Work that always seem to cut against players. Take, for instance, how all team employees get biweekly paychecks throughout the year — except players, who get checks only during the football season. The N.B.A. does not work this way; their players get paid twice a month, just like everyone else in the company. N.F.L. owners won’t change the arrangement.

“A billion-dollar corporation,” Mr. Winston said, “and you’re telling me accounting can’t figure it out?”

A press official for the league declined several requests for comment.

When trust breaks down, suspicion creeps into everything, and Mr. Winston sees malign intent even here. Most N.F.L. players, he pointed out, are young men in their early 20s, who often come from modest means, and don’t know how to budget. “Do you want your players saving money or not saving money?” he said. “Do you want your players needing to play football, or not needing to play football?”

“It’s all about control,” Mr. Winston added. “Even more than money, it’s always been control.”

Mr. Winston argues that this is clearest in the case of the ingeniously oxymoronic mechanism known as a “non-guaranteed contract.” In effect, teams can walk away from them at any time. The N.F.L. says they are necessary because of the injuries that are inevitable in football: If they had to keep paying every player who got hurt, they’d go broke. Few corporations in the world, though, are further from going broke than the N.F.L. And non-guaranteed contracts both force players to bear all of the risk and incentivize teams to operate with maximum brutality.

“There’s no responsibility for them to pay you what they said they were going to pay you,” Mr. Whitworth said. “There’s just something not right about that.”

Mr. Winston, who knows what a powder keg this issue is for both sides, is more circumspect about it. For one thing, he said, guaranteed contracts are not forbidden by the current C.B.A. It’s just been (again) How Things Work for so long that changing it is like getting the earth to reverse its rotation. Even so, players have made significant headway on it over the course of this C.B.A.; according to the players’ association, 386 players now have their contracts fully guaranteed and 300 more have nearly full guarantees. It’s nowhere close to the N.B.A.’s 100 percent, but it’s a marked improvement over 2011, when only top-tier quarterbacks could pull off such a demand.

For Mr. Winston, one of the keys to setting up a win in 2021 is making the case in public today that most N.F.L. players are getting a raw deal. He knows what most fans think: that pro athletes get to play a game for a living, and how dare they whine about that? He knows he needs to persuade fans to see pro athletes the way he does: as employees who go to work every day just like the rest of us, with crummy bosses and substandard workplaces and a power imbalance between labor and management.

It’s taken the N.F.L.P.A. years to get athletes to think of themselves that way, and Mr. Winston said he’s proud that the N.F.L.’s youngest stars are arriving in the league so much less benighted than in generations past. Each of the teams recently elected their player representatives to the union, and the new crop includes the top overall draft pick, Baker Mayfield; two rookie quarterbacks, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen; and the superstar running back Todd Gurley.

Just as it was during the last C.B.A. negotiation, the face of management is the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, who is, to put it mildly, not popular among players. Mr. Goodell has often described his job with a military metaphor: “protecting the shield,” a reference to the N.F.L.’s Captain America-style logo. But to the union, Mr. Goodell’s real job is using the shield to keep players a safe distance from the owners who pay his (guaranteed) $30 million salary.

What frustrates Mr. Winston is that, to fans, N.F.L. labor disputes are seen as a greedy fight between two comparably rich sides over who gets more of the pie — and that historically, the league has swayed most fans to side with owners in the name of team spirit. To Mr. Winston, those fans are wrong in a fundamental way: Including retired players, most N.F.L.ers are not rich, and won’t ever get rich from the game. Players drafted after the first two rounds each get the same basic contract: four years, non-guaranteed, escalating from a base salary of $480,000 in year one to $705,000 in year four. Sixty percent of the athletes in the league make the minimum salary.

The second contract is when players cash in. But that’s the thing about the N.F.L.: the one-two punch of inevitable injuries and non-guaranteed contracts means that most players never get to a second deal. The average N.F.L. career lasts just over three seasons, and players don’t see it as a coincidence that the standard initial term is set at four. (Nor that players don’t qualify for a pension until they complete the third game of their fourth season.) The typical rookie can expect to make around $1.4 million before he’s done, and before agents and accountants take their cut. Then he’s out of football and unemployed by the time he’s 25.

A League of Rabid Capitalists

Mr. Winston has gotten rich playing football, with more than $20 million in career earnings. But he’s always been the type to speak his mind, and he’s always been practical and meticulous. His father was a school vice principal in Midland, Tex., and his mother was a nurse. “Both very hard-working, didn’t have a ton, both very detailed-oriented,” he said. “You come from modest upbringings, and you kind of keep track of things.”

The players union is not the S.E.I.U., and Eric Winston is not football’s Che Guevara. The N.F.L. is a league filled on all fronts with rabid capitalists, and Mr. Winston, who studied international finance in college at the University of Miami, is certainly one of them. He doesn’t think teams should be forbidden from cutting players; he doesn’t think issues like guaranteed contracts are morally or economically cut-and-dried. He doesn’t even think all of the team owners are terrible; Mr. Kraft in particular, he said, is a reasonable person and a model for respectful labor relations.

Mr. Kraft has a reputation for being among the league’s most progressive owners. He has donated large sums to the cause of criminal justice reform, and he played a key role in helping the rapper Meek Mill get out of prison. But his age (77) and net worth (Forbes puts it at $6.6 billion) mean he approaches the league’s labor issues from a rather different perspective than its 20- and 30-something players.

In an interview, Mr. Kraft praised Mr. Winston’s even-handedness as a counterpart, but lamented that “sometimes you can run into players who are focused solely on short-term decisions. Almost like football coaches, you know — they want to win and that’s all they care about.” Owners, meanwhile, “want what’s good for the game long-term. I mean, our family is in this long-term.” A multigenerational investment perspective is not available to, say, a 23-year-old running back drafted in the fourth round.

Mr. Kraft has a clear grasp, though, on why the Kaepernick issue still looms large for so many players and how urgent it is for the league to resolve it. “Let me say this: I would very much like to see him in the league,” he said.

One unconfirmed media report in mid-September claimed that his team had engaged in discussions with Mr. Kaepernick, ultimately fruitless, to back up quarterback Tom Brady. In the interview, Mr. Kraft called the report a “rumor” that had originated with a lawyer in Kaepernick’s camp, but when asked if that meant the report was untrue, he paused for three seconds. “I’m done talking about it,” he said finally. (Mr. Kaepernick and his lawyer, Mark Geragos, did not respond to requests for comment.)

The Kaepernick dispute is, at root, a labor issue, one Mr. Winston would like to see resolved before he steps aside in 2020, though he’s not holding his breath. In the meantime, he said, it just gets added to the growing list of corrosive incidents that are eating through players’ trust for their bosses like battery acid. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it, because it’s like, ‘Listen, you want us to sit down and do a deal and figure this out — but the last eight years, you want us just to forget about?’” Mr. Winston shook his head. “That isn’t the way it works. That’s not human nature.”

Any politician worth his lapel pin doesn’t just choose the hills he’s willing to die on; he also wants to make sure he gets credit for the work he’s already done. Mr. Winston’s biggest wins have come on things that seem small, but that chip away at this culture of control and take some back for the players. After lunch, back at the N.F.L.P.A. headquarters, he reflected on the gains that make him proudest: financial literacy training for rookies, a roster of league-verified money managers, more investment in training facilities, improved post-retirement medical care.

But it’s what he does with these last few months that could make the most lasting impact, as the players’ union positions itself for the most consequential fight of its existence. When Mr. Winston took over in 2013, he said, he expected to be a peacetime leader. Then came “Deflategate,” then Adrian Peterson’s child-abuse case, then Mr. Kaepernick, then President Trump, then Jerry Richardson and Robert McNair. “Boom, boom, boom, boom,” Mr. Winston said.

“I always thought of myself as a bridge between two C.B.A.s,” he continued, “because I never expected to play this long. Now here I am. And I want to finish it the right way.”

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