Top 10 Stories of Last Week! 24/02/2020

The week’s news included; Coronavirus causes worst week for markets since 2008, Barclays execs cleared of fraud in £4bn Qatar case, FRC lays out plans for big four breakup, Sun newapaper owner posts £68m loss

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: 

  • City A.M – Is The Flip-Phone Making A Comeback?
  • LawCareers.net – Can an AI be an inventor?
  • City A.M – The US doesn’t have many options in its fight with Huawei over 5G
  • BBC News – What will bank branches look like in the future?

1. CORONAVIRUS CAUSES STOCK MARKET ROUT

Last week was the worst week for US and UK stock markets since the 2008 financial crisis. Trillions of dollars of were wiped out as investors woke up to the coronavirus. The Dow Jones posted its worst day ever shedding nearly 1200 points. The three top US indexes, the Dow Jones, NASDAQ and the S&P 500 all ended the week losing over 10%. The FTSE 1000 lost 11% or £206 billion in value last week.

China is known is the workshop of the world and the Coronavirus has sent the worlds largest manufacturer into shutdown. Multinational giants from Jaguar Land Rover to Apple have all warned that they are running out of components. Furthermore, sales of goods and services have flat lined which will have a huge hit on profits for the vast majority of sectors. Airlines have been hit hard and Air France has even decided to slash 1500 jobs due to weak demand. New cases of the Coronavirus are arising every day in locations around the world sending more economies into lockdown. Investors do not know how long this outbreak will last so market panic is beginning to set in.

Gold on the other hand hit a 7 year high last week. Gold is seen a safe haven for wealth when markets are in turmoil. Investors fearful of losing money will instead buy gold which holds its value.

2. BARCLAYS CHIEFS CLEARED OF FRAUD

Three former Barclays executives have been cleared of fraud relating to the bank’s £4 billion scandal with Qatar. Barclays was one of the few UK banks that did not require a bailout in the 2008 financial crisis. It emerged that Barclays had struck a multi billion investment deal with Qatar to secure emergency funding from the major Barclays shareholder. Barclays received £3.95 billion from Qatar but received £322m in hidden fees along with other discrete favourable benefits through “bogus” advisory service agreements.

The Serious Fraud Office charged the bankers with conspiracy to commit fraud and has been investigating this case for 7 years. Last week, the court of appeal upheld the initial judgement that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the bankers. The case against Barclays itself over the conduct was also thrown out in 2018.

3. BIG FOUR BREAK UP

The Financial Report Council has laid out plans to break up the big four accounting firms. The FRC is urging both the government and the firms to take action after a catalogue of high profile accounting scandals including BHS and Carillion. Only 75% of the sample of audits of Britain’s 350 top listed companies for 2017 were deemed good or satisfactory. The FRC is proposing for the big four to split their audit and consulting departments in the UK. Costs and profits would be ringfenced and earning pools for partners in consulting & audit would be segregated. The regulator claims this would prevent conflicts of interest and improve the quality of audits. Proposals also include the appointment of independent directors on their audit boards.

The big four, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC have all received these FRC plans and have been given the opportunity to implement them independently. This would represent an enormous shakeup of the industry. There is however, no immediate sign that the government will implement these proposals.

We explore whether breaking up the big four is a good idea in “Should the Big Four be Broken Up”

4. HEATHROW THIRD RUNWAY

The Court of Appeal has ruled that plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport are unlawful. This is because the plans fail to consider the government’s climate change commitment. MPs voted by majority of 296 to approve a third runway at Heathrow in 2018. A legal challenge was then was brought a number of environmental campaign groups, councils and the Mayor of London. The Paris agreement set an international net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 and plans to keep global temperature increases beneath 2 degrees. The Court of Appeal says the government had a duty to take the Paris climate agreement into account but failed to do so in supporting the plans for expansion. Therefore, the court considered the plans as unlawful.

The ruling also allows Boris Johnson to keep face. In 2015 he said he would lie down “in front of those bulldozers” in opposition to the third runway. Thus, it probably comes as no great surprise that government have said they will not appeal the decision. Heathrow itself however, has said it will appeal.

5. GOLDMAN SACHS 1MDB CASE

Goldman Sachs has pleaded not guilty in a Malaysian Court over its role in the 1MDB scandal. Three units were charged by Malaysian prosecutors for their role in raising $6.5 billion through bond sales for the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund. The investment bank denies any wrongdoing and blames the former Malaysian government for lying to them over how the money was to be used.

The scandal saw over $2.7 billion stolen from the 1MDB Malaysian development fund. One of the beneficiaries financier Jho Loo is still on the run from authorities but protests his innocence. The money was supposed to be used for Malaysian infrastructure. Thieves used over $1.7 billion of this money to purchase extravagant assets, ranging from private jets to Picasso Paintings. Malaysia is seeking $7.5 billion in compensation. The trial is set for November 2020 and hearings are set for April 2021.

6. THE SUN OWNER POSTS LOSSES

The owner of the Sun newspaper posted a staggering £68 million last year. The News Group Newspapers saw sales of its papers the Sun and Sun on Sunday decline last year. It also had to put aside a hefty £26.7 million to cover legal bills due to its involvement in the phone-hacking scandal. The final bill could be even higher.

The Sun saw its daily sales sink 8% while the Sun on Sunday saw its weekly average sales fall nearly 10%. The Sun is still however, the bestselling newspaper in the country with over 1.38 million copies sold every day. Online visitors to the Sun’s website were up over 10% to 32.8 million per month.

7. BEYOND MEAT SHARES SINK

Beyond Meat’s share price fell by 6% upon release of its fourth quarter financials despite the company tripling its revenue. The alternative meat maker posted sales of $98.5 million in the quarter, up 212%, smashing estimates. Beyond Meat however, posted narrowing net losses of $452,000, significantly lower than the $7.5 million posted last year.

The company has struck deals with numerous US restaurants including KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks, offering meat alternatives on the menus. Many of these are testing periods so it would need to turn these into long term deals to turn its losses into profits. The company will now focus on marketing to challenge the powerful US meat industry.

8. DEMAND FOR SPACE TRAVEL SOARS

Ticket sales for Virgin Galactic’s flights to space have soared. Richard Branson’s commercial space travel company has secured nearly 8000 registrations. Its first flight is due to launch later in 2020 and 600 tickets have been sold for this flight. Tickets are understandably not cheap, a cool $250,000. A number of celebrities have scooped up tickets including Leonardo Di Caprio and Justin Bieber.

For Virgin Galactic as a company, success is essential because the company is burning through money. The firm posted a net loss of $73 million last quarter but if sales can hit a steady rate, it can turn its finances around. Last year, Virgin Galactic became the first publicly listed space tourism company.

9. VERSACE LAWSUIT

Versace has settled a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination but also the use of internal code to refer to black customers. The code “D410” is Versace’s code to label black clothing but allegedly also used to alert staff that a black person is in store. The employee suing Versace also claims he was harassed due to his race and was unfairly dismissed after he complained. This spanned out into a class action lawsuit. The case has however now been quietly settled for undisclosed sum but it is thought to be around $300,000. The issue of racism appears to be endemic within the fashion industry. Fashion Law looks closer at the issue.

10. TESCO SLASHES JOBS

Tesco has announced that it will slash 1800 jobs as demand for its Bakery goods declines. The supermarket claims shoppers are seeking wider ranges of baked goods such as wraps and bagels so they must adapt to remain profitable. The in-store bakeries will stop baking bread in 58 stores, opting to get it delivered from elsewhere. Some 201 stores will see only the most popular baked goods prepared on site. This forms part of a shakeup of its counters and bakeries announced a few months ago.

Tesco had already announced 4500 job cuts last year as part of a wider drive to make savings and improve profitability. Tesco is the UK’S largest supermarket with 23% of the market and posted £51 billion in revenue last year.

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