Less than six months ago, a column by Andrew Ross Sorkin on the front of the New York Times business section began:
For the past several months, ever since the election, chief executives of the nation's largest companies have repeatedly professed to be more confident than ever. They say, in survey after survey, that they are more optimistic about the economy and their own businesses, waxing about the prospect of lower regulations and lower taxes under President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress. Investors, at the same time, have bid up the stock market.
Yet there is a remarkable divergence between what chief executives have been saying aloud and what they are actually doing in practice. They may not be as confident as they say they are.
On Wall Street, there is one barometer that is considered the ultimate truth serum when it comes to reflecting C.E.O. confidence: merger and acquisition activity.
Corporate chieftains do deals when they are confident about their own business and the trends in the economy. When they are nervous about the future, they usually pull back from deal making and focus inward.
If you can't remember reading about a big deal announced recently, that's because there hasn't been one. The reality is that since Mr. Trump was elected, mergers have fallen off a cliff.
The numbers tell the story: So far this year, the number of deals and their size are at the lowest level since 2013. Total deal making in the United States in the first quarter was off nearly 40 percent from its peak during the same period in 2015, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence...Yes, the prospect of an early morning Twitter tirade from Mr. Trump may be holding back deal making. And that's not confidence inducing.
Since that column appeared, Amazon announced a $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, Broadcom announced a $103 billion bid for Qualcomm, CVS Health is going to buy Aetna for $70 billion, and Disney may buy assets of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox.
Given that Sorkin and the Times blamed Trump for the lack of mergers and acquisitions a few months ago, are they going to give him credit for the spate of them recently announced?
I mention this not as a reflexive defender of Trump, which I certainly am not. But in this environment in which Trump gets blamed for everything, it seems to me, at least, to be a useful journalistic and civic service to distinguish between those things that he genuinely deserves to be blamed for, and other things, like "holding back deal making," that he was being blamed for erroneously.