Top 10 Stories of Last Week! 04/11/2019

The week’s news included; WeWork owner posts $6.5 billion loss, British Airways owner buys Air Europa, Unite Students buys Liberty Living, Microsoft’s 4 day working week boosts sales by 40%.

Below are our top 10 stories that you need to know about. Be sure to check our twitter page and Facebook page for regular posts of important headlines. Get all the important stories and insights straight into your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list here.

Opinion articles of the week: 

  • Tech Radar – 4 ways Disney Plus could beat Netflix – and 4 ways it could fall behind.
  • Business Insider – Facebook refuses to fact-check political ads, and it’s infuriating employees and lawmakers. Here’s why the issue has become Facebook’s latest major controversy.
  • City AM – Can M&S turn its fortunes around with Ocado?
  • Tech Radar – 5 reasons why Google bought Fitbit.

1. US CHINA TRADE TENSIONS EASE

The US and China have agreed to drop some tariffs in a sign the icy relationship may be defrosting. This forms phase 1 of a potential trade deal between the two economic behemoths. While this was agreed in principle, no timetable detailing when tariffs would actually be dropped was finalised. It was speculated that phase 1 would see $156 billion worth of impending US tariffs on Chinese goods would be dropped. Although this appears unlikely given opposition from within the US administration. With Trump gearing up for 2020 Presidential Election campaign a softening stance on China could prove harmful.

The US China trade war has destabilized the global economy. The scale of tariffs has hit Chinese consumer spending and considering China accounts for 10% of global imports, it’s no surprise industries are suffering. In particular the car manufacturing sector is feeling the pinch as new car sales in China have fallen for 15 consecutive months. The US is issuing $16 billion in subsidies to soy bean producers given the severe decline in business caused by the Chinese tariffs on US soy. Although this move to drop some tariffs is far from a breakthrough, a thawing of the tensions and a reversal of the economic Challenges that have ensued can only be positive.

2. SOFTBANK POSTS $6.5 BILLION LOSS

Japanese investment bank SoftBank has posted a $6.5 billion loss, following the WeWork debacle along with Uber’s $1.2 billion loss last quarter. The company bailed out WeWork with $5 billion in new funding following its failed IPO. In addition, SoftBank bought $3 billion of stock from existing WeWork shareholers. This is SoftBank’s first operating loss in 14 years. The CEO has now come under fire for its handling of its WeWork investment. SoftBank is also Uber’s largest shareholder and the ride-hailing firm’s hefty loss simply compounded the issue and there are questions now over the CEO’s investment strategy. SoftBank’s hallmark is its Vision Fund, the world’s largest start up investment fund has long boosted profits for SoftBank. The funds 88 investments are worth over $77 billion. Despite this, the fund posted a loss of nearly $9 billion in the third quarter. Bloomberg looks at SoftBank’s troubles in more detail.

3. BRITISH AIRWAYS OWNER BUYS AIR EUROPA

The owner of British Airways has struck a deal to buy Air Europa for £864 million. This is another acquisition in a string of purchases in the sector designed to mitigate the challenging environment. Airlines have faced increased fuel bills as well as tough competition. Air Europa will certainly bolster IAG’s portfolio. The airline is Spain’s third largest and travels to 69 destinations across Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. International Airline Group’s portfolio along with British Airways, also consists of Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling.

It has been a rough few months for IAG. The company faced a £183 million fine over a data breach at British Airways. The airline has also faced pilot strikes over work conditions. Our in sight article explores the issue here. The deal for Air Europa is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close next year.

4. MOTHERCARE FALLS INTO ADMINISTRATION

Baby goods store Mothercare is to go into administration after it has failed to find a buyer. The collapse will see the closure of all 79 UK stores in phases with 2500 jobs being at risk. Mothercare simply failed to keep up with competitors and its online strategy was too weak to maintain profitability. Mothercare’s UK arm posted a loss of £36.3 million in the last financial year. The company voluntary arrangement (CVA) which Mothercare entered into failed to bring about the change needed for survival, despite 55 stores closures. The company will now restructure in the administration process and swathes of stores are likely to close.

5. UNITE STUDENTS ACQUIRES LIBERTY LIVING

The CMA has approved the £1.4 billion merger between student accommodation providers Unite Students and Liberty Living. Unite’s acquisition of Liberty had faced a regulatory hurdle after the CMA considered whether to escalate its investigation into the merger. Unite and Liberty are rivals in the student accommodation sector and there were concerns that a merger could reduce competition. Unite currently provides accommodation for 50,000 students across 22 university towns. The CMA decide not to escalate its inquiry to stage two and gave its approval. The deal is now expected to be finalised by the end of the 2019 and will bring synergies of £15 million annually from 2021.

6. UNDER ARMOUR FACES FEDERAL INVESTIGATION

Under Armour is currently under investigation from US federal authorities. The sportswear maker is suspected of moving sales each quarter to make its books look artificially healthier. The firm has lowered its revenue forecasts for 2019 from 3-4% down to 2%. The company has faced stagnant growth in recent months and the federal investigation is another headache. Under Armour says it was compliant with all relevant accounting practices. The company posted revenue of $1.4 billion in the third quarter. Shares were down 16% in response to the news of the investigation.

7. MICROSOFT’S 4 DAY WEEK BOOSTS PRODUCTIVITY

Microsoft introduced a four-day working week in Japan and sales skyrocketed. The tech giant ran trial in August 2019 with adapted working days and conditions. Staff were given paid leave every Friday in August and the offices were closed. Furthermore, all meetings were limited to 30 minutes. Sales over the month were up by nearly 40%. Electricity consumption also fell by 23% and paper printing fell by 59%. Its no surprise that 92% of staff were in favour of the four day week after the trial.

This is in stark contrast to the general culture in Japan. Japan is notorious for its excessive working hours. A recent survey showed over 20% of Japanese employees work more than 80 hours of overtime every month, most of which are unpaid. The situation is so bad that “karoshi” which means “overwork death” is a legally recognised cause of death. Ironically however, Japan’s productivity is actually lower than the UK’s.

8. VIRGIN MOBILE SWITCHES TO VODAFONE

Virgin Mobile has switched its host network to Vodafone, after 20 years with BT. The switch will take place from 2021 for 5 years. Vodafone will provide Virgin Media access with its technology and mobile network services. Virgin currently runs on the EE network after it was bought by BT in 2015.

Virgin Media has 3 million customers, and these will migrate once the contract expires in 2 years. BT shares plunged by 4.6% in response to the news. Sky News looks at some of the implications.

9. TIKTOK OWNER UNVEILS SMARTPHONE

ByteDance, the owner of viral app TikTok has launched its first smartphone. The phone will have TikTok app integrated and it can be seamlessly accessed from the home screen. It will be called that Smartisan Jianguo Pro 3, which translates as the Nut Pro 3. The phone will be priced at 2,899 CNH (£320) but will be packed with high-end features such as a 8GB of RAM and four rear cameras. TikTok, a video sharing app, has become a global sensation boasting 500 million users. This marks a side step into hardware by its Chinese owner, Byte Dance. Byte Dance posted revenue of $7.2 billion in 2018.

10. PIZZA EXPRESS GETS CASH BOOST

Pizza Express’ owner has ploughed £80 million into the business to help it stay afloat. The struggling restaurant chain is overwhelmed by a £1.1 billion debt pile and time was running out to pay bondholders. Pizza Express is owned by Hony Capital, a Chinese investment firm, and the cash will go towards paying bondholders as well as providing general financial support. The company is still profitable posting £19.6 million last quarter but this is down 9%. The company is looking to improve its finance before it finds itself in serious financial difficulty.

 Check out our insight article on the decline in the casual dining sector.

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