The week’s news included; UK government introduces points based immigration system, Forever 21 bought out of bankruptcy, Cayman Islands blacklisted by EU, Elon Musk enters space tourism deal,
Opinion articles of the week:
- BBC News – Why are investors betting against shopping centres
- FT – WeWork: how the ultimate unicorn lost its billions
- Sky News – Why the UK and European banks are struggling to grow returns
- City A.M – Should the government intervene to stop cash disappearing?
1. NEW UK IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
The UK government is to introduce a new points-based immigration system designed to stop immigration of low-skilled workers. The new system will ensure EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December. All foreign citizens must reach 70 points to be entitled to work in the UK. The ability to speak English and having skilled job with an “approved sponsor” will be worth 50 points. Points will also be awarded for qualifications, salary offering and taking a job with sectoral shortages. Waitering and some farm work will not be classified as “skilled work”. Jobs such as carpentry, plastering and childminding will be included as “skilled”. In addition, skilled workers must have job offer with a salary of £25,600 and above but may be lower for shortage occupations. The hospitality industry, in particular has lashed out, claiming this policy will cause “disastrous” labour shortages. Pret a Manger, for example, said in 2017 that only one-in-50 of their applicants were British citizens.
The government have told employers to “adapt and adjust” away from cheap foreign labour. Instead they urge businesses to hire and train British workers. The government also suggested that the 8 million economically inactive people could fill the unskilled roles. This has however, been criticised by many as nearly 6 million of these are either retired, students or long-term sick.
There is no doubt this policy will reshape the face of the British labour market. The economic and social ramifications of this remain to be seen.
BBC News looks at the new policy in more details.
2. CORONAVIRUS HITS CAR INDUSTRY
The Coronavirus outbreak has wiped out car sales in China. In the first half of February 2020, China’s car sales plunged 92% as car dealerships remain closed and buyers stay indoors. Dealers have begun to open stores, but it will take months for sales get up to pre-outbreak levels. In a nation of 1.4 billion, average daily car sales sank to just 811 vehicles in the first week of February. China is largest car market in the world with over 21 million cars sold every year.
Furthermore, China produces car parts for almost every major global carmaker and the shut downs are taking effect. Last week, Jaguar Land Rover warned of production disruption if parts factories don’t reopen. The carmaker barely has enough parts to last the month and has even resorted to flying parts in suitcases from China. The coronavirus has compounded financial problems for JLR who was already struggling in China and the carmaker has slashed jobs globally in recent times. The outbreak will no doubt have a huge impact on the balance sheets of carmakers worldwide.
3. FOREVER 21 BOUGHT FROM BANKRUPTCY
Forever 21 has been rescued from bankruptcy by three companies with big plans for expansion. Authentic Brands, Simon Property and Brookfield property have bought the struggling retailer and aim to keep all US stores open and even expand worldwide. The owners hope to revamp the brand, adding new lines of jewellery and footwear. Forever 21 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September last year. The retailer failed to maintain its appeal to its core market, young shoppers. Forever 21 has a poor online offering, huge overheads and insufficient footfall, a retail recipe for disaster. It had previously planned to shut as many as 350 stores worldwide including across Europe and Asia. The new owners now seek to re-enter these markets with a fresh approach and image. Forever 21 currently has 600 stores globally.
4. MORGAN STANLEY BUYS E-TRADE
Morgan Stanley has bought US brokerage firm E-Trade for $13 billion. This huge deal will help the investment grow its wealth management division. E-Trade currently has over 5.2 million clients and $360 billion in retail client assets. The acquisition will allow Morgan Stanley to integrate this large customer base into its current 3.2 million clients. Morgan Stanley’s wealth management division has around $2.7 trillion of client assets. E-Trade shareholders will receive 1.0432 Morgan Stanley shares for each share. The CEO of E-Trade will join Morgan Stanley but will continue to run E-Trade under the Morgan Stanley umbrella. The deal is expected to close in quarter four 2020. Shares in E-Trade soared as much as 20% in response to the news.
5. WELLS FARGO SETTLEMENT
US bank Wells Fargo has struck a $3 billion settlement deal with the government over fraudulent practices. The bank admitted to opening millions of fake customer accounts, misused customer information to create accounts without permission and wrongly collected millions in fees. This activity took place between 2002 and 2016 (BBC News). Wells Fargo secured a deferred prosecution which will see it go under a strict monitoring program. If the bank adheres to the compliance regime and cooperates in investigations for three years, criminal charges will be dropped. Wells Fargo has already faced billions in fines before this and two chief executives have already resigned over the scandal. As part of the sum, $500 million will go to investors who were misled by the bank.
6. HSBC SLASHES JOBS
HSBC has announced plans to slash 15% of its global workforce in a drive to make $4.5 billion in savings. The cuts will affect all parts of the business. Even the global bonus pool is down 4% to a cool £3.3 billion. HSBC’s global work force is expected to be slashed by around 35,000 to 200,000. The bank could also look to close a third of its US branches and drop nearly $100 billion in assets. HSBC has also warned that a continuation of the coronavirus shut down across Asia could force it to set aside as much as $600m to manage the fallout. This is no doubt one of the largest shakeups for HSBC and a statement of intent to remain profitable in spite of numerous macro-economic challenges. HSBC’s shares plunged 6.2% in response to the announcement.
The Economist considers whether this move will be enough.
7. CAYMAN ISLANDS BLACKLISTED
The Cayman Islands has been blacklisted by the European Union as a tax haven. This is the first UK territory to be put on the EU blacklist of non-cooperative jurisdiction. Jurisdictions are placed on this list where they have inadequate measures to prevent tax abuses. Countries enter discussion with the EU to devise measures to address their inadequate frameworks. Blacklisted countries either failed to implement measures before the agreed deadlines or made no commitment to address the issues. Companies within the EU must take additional due diligence steps when dealing with entities in a blacklisted jurisdiction. In addition, blacklisted jurisdictions are less likely to receive EU funding. Cayman now joins 3 other countries on the non-cooperative list; Oman, Fiji and Vanuatu.
The Cayman Islands previously was on the “grey list”, this is where measures had been agreed and the EU gave them time to implement. The early February deadline was however, missed. Many Cayman Island officials expect the decision to be reversed soon however, as they have now implemented the agreement measures.
8. ELON MUSK ENTERS SPACE TOURISM
Elon Musk’s Space X has signed a deal with Space Adventures which will see it take space tourists for the first time. Tourists will be able to go into orbit for up to 5 days as early as next year. No prices have been released by tickets are likely to be in the hundreds of thousands. There is still much work to be done though. Last year, Space X’s Crew Dragon vehicle exploded during a test launch. This is the same vehicle that would be taking passengers on the space tourism flights. The wider space industry is expected to reach £800 billion by 2030.
9. VICTORIA’S SECRET HITS $1.1 BILLION VALUATION
Victoria’s Secret has hit a valuation of $1.1 billion after parent company L-Brands sold a 55% stake. The lingerie retailer has been struggling and sales plunged 10% in the fourth quarter of 2019. This decline has been gradual as the company has failed to keep up with changing market trends. Fuelled by this poor performance, L Brand’s share price has plunged over 75% since 2015 now trading at just $24. The declining profitability of VS amongst other controversies influenced L-Brands to sell a 55% stake in VS for $525 million and focus on its core Bath and Body stores. The stake will be sold to Sycamore Partners who plan to take the company private. L-Brands will retain a 45% stake. Victoria’s Secret posted revenue of $7.3 billion in 2018.
10. LAURA ASHLEY RECEIVES LIFELINE
Retailer Laura Ashley secured £20 million in emergency funding last week, saving the firm from collapse. The company will now have access to a working capital facility provided by Wells Fargo. Laura Ashley’s owner MUI Asia secured the deal but will not be injecting any cash into the business. The funding will allow Laura Ashley to meet its obligations and operate as normal for the time being. Shares soared 45% in response to the news.
Laura Ashley peaked in the 1980’s but has been on the decline for some time. Last year it posted a loss of £10 million and last week scrapped dividends after a poor first half of the year. Furthermore, sales were down 10.8% in the half year to December 2019. The firm blames its poor results on weak consumer spending.