Top 10 Stories of Last Week! 02/11/2020

The week’s news included; Biden’s presidency: Policies & Predictions, China blocks Ant Group’s $37bn IPO, Oregon decriminalises all drugs, Goldman moves $60bn of assets from London to Frankfurt ahead of Brexit

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: 

  • The Fashion Law – Why Luxury Brands Are Weathering the Pandemic Better Than High Street Retailers.
  • Legal Cheek – The mega trends aspiring lawyers need to know about.
  • City A.M – Goldman Sachs and Citi slash UK GDP forecasts on news of second lockdown

1. JOE BIDEN WINS PRESIDENCY

Joe Biden is projected to win the US presidential race and will become the 46th president. Biden is entering the White House as the oldest US President ever at 78 years old. He won on the ticket of being a unifier of a divided America. Given the deepening divisions on issues ranging from coronavirus to racial injustice, Biden has an enormous task on his hands. His Vice President, Kamala Harris, also breaks history in becoming the first woman and the first black person to hold the position. Below we briefly summarise the status quo and what a Biden presidency looks like.

Can Trump overturn the results?

Trump and his supporters have made countless claims of voter fraud. Although no evidence has been put forward, Trump’s campaign is filing lawsuits over the veracity of the election. He will also seek recounts in many key states.

Even with recounts however, Biden holds a commanding lead over Trump in key states. Any recounts are unlikely to yield any changes to the outcome. The only method for overturning the result would be successfully convincing judges in enough states that voter fraud had occurred. Voter fraud is, however, extremely rare in the US and with no substantive evidence, all the lawsuits will almost certainly collapse. Two of Trump’s cases have already failed.

What are some of Biden’s policies?
  • Covid: Biden plans to stop the spread of Covid-19 by any means. The US has recorded over 230,000 deaths and around 10 million cases. One of his first moves will be setting up a coronavirus taskforce.
  • Health: Biden wants to expand the Affordable Care Act, providing free health care for some but does not support a universal healthcare model. He also plans to tackle exorbitant drug pricing and insurance premiums. He will also lower the eligible age to access Medicare from 65 to 60.
  • Economy: Biden will launch a “Build, Back, Better” scheme to support innovation and small blue collar businesses. He has pledged $400 billion to buy American goods to support new transport projects. He also supports doubling the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • Climate Change: Biden will re-join the global climate accord, aiming to reach net zero emissions by 2050. There will also be $1.7 trillion of federal green investment.
What does it mean for a UK-US free trade deal?

For Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy, a Biden president could be problematic. Biden has openly said if the UK breaches the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement there can be no US free trade deal. The controversial Internal Market Bill, which is currently being heard in Parliament, would openly breach the withdrawal agreement and international law. How this matter will be resolved remains to be seen.

Furthermore, as President Obama was leaving office, he mentioned the UK would be at the back of the queue for free trade deals as an independent nation. Biden’s presidency could see a return to this approach.

2. CHINA BLOCKS ANT GROUP IPO

China has suspended Ant Group’s $37 billion blockbuster IPO. Chinese payment firm Ant Group was due to list on the Shanghai stock exchange as well as Hong Kong. Ant Group made a regulatory disclosure to the stock exchange regarding its core markets, but this disclosure was so significant that it could see Ant Group in breach of exchange rules. As a result, its pending listing was suspended.

Ant Group was set to list around 11% of its shares at around $10 per share across Shangai and Hong Kong. The listing was due to value Ant Group at around $313 billion.

Ant Group is best known for operating the mobile-payment app Alipay and is backed by Alibaba’s Jack Ma. The company serves over one billion users and processes £11.8 trillion worth of payments. Alibaba saw its own shares tank 5.9% in response to the news.

3. OREGON DECRIMINALISES ALL DRUGS

The US state of Oregon has decriminalised the use of drugs including crack cocaine and heroin. Possession of hard drugs for personal use will no longer carry a custodial sentence. Instead those caught with hard substances for personal use will face a $100 fine or a health check-up at a rehab centre. Selling and manufacturing drugs will remain a criminal offence. Oregon held a public vote over these measures in which it was approved. The new law will be effective from 1 February 2021.

This is by far the most significant relaxation of drug laws in the Western world. Only 11 US states have legalised recreational marijuana and four more states are currently in the process of voting on the issue. Cannabis is still illegal at Federal level, but individual states have freedom to set their own drug laws. 

Oregon’s measures have drawn criticism due to the potential risk of increasing drug use despite the severe health and societal harm. In the US, 400,000 people have died from opioid abuse over the past 30 years.

Advocates however, say drug use is a health issue not a criminal one. Furthermore, the money saved from not reprimanding non-violent drug users can be used for rehabilitation. Under the new law, the State will be obliged to provide additional funding for drug addiction services. The impact of the new laws on the uptake of hard drugs remains to be seen.

4. TIKTOK SIGNS SONY DEAL

TikTok has signed a licensing agreement with Sony, as the social media app eyes expansion. The deal will allow TikTok to offer its content creators use of songs from Sony Music artists. This will also see TikTok promote Sony artists on the platform as part of a wider partnership. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but both sides sound confident in the prospect of wider collaboration.

TikTok is a video sharing social media app which allows users to overlay audio onto videos they record. This has allowed the app to become a highly influential platform in promoting new and upcoming music. The company was founded in 2015 and is owned by Chinese tech giant Byte Dance. It has secured over 2 billion downloads and has over 800 million active users worldwide.

5. GOLDMAN MOVES $60BN OF ASSETS OUT OF UK

Goldman Sachs is to move up to $60 billion of assets out of the UK to Frankfurt. A number of banks are making contingency plans as the UK loses EU regulatory equivalency post-Brexit. In order to service EU clients, financial service institutions must do so from within the EU, unless the EU grants the UK regulatory equivalency. Businesses are preparing for a no-deal Brexit as the prospect of a trade deal fades.  In addition to moving assets to Frankfurt, Goldman will transfer 100 employees from London to Frankfurt. Goldman Sachs is expanding its Frankfurt arm exponentially. At the end of 2019, the entity had just €3.4 billion euros. Post Brexit, this will no doubt be in the hundreds of billions.

6. CLARKS SECURES £100m RESCUE DEAL

Clarks has secured a £100 million investment from Hong Kong Private equity firm LionRock Capital, providing a lifeline for the company. As part of the deal, Clarks will need to undertake a company voluntary agreement (CVA). It will seek rent holidays at 60 of its 320 stores, while 50 shops will close. LionRock will become the majority shareholder under the deal.

Clarks has been struggling before the pandemic and was in desperate need of reorganisation. Like much of the high street, it had huge overheads and falling footfall. It is hoped this new deal will provide the business with long term viability.

7. HOVIS BOUGHT BY ENDLESS

Bread maker Hovis has been bought by private equity firm Endless for an undisclosed sum. This follows a bidding war against an Italian food producer.  Former owners, Premier Foods, who owned 49% of Hovis will receive £37 million from the sale. The total purchase price of Hovis was not disclosed but it is thought to be around £100 million. Hovis is one of the largest bread brands in the UK. It turned over £334 million last year and employs 2700 people.

8. SAINSBURY’S TO SLASH 3500 JOBS

Sainsbury’s has announced plans to slash 3500 jobs as it closes meat, fish and deli counters as well as 420 Argos stores. These cuts are designed to reduce overheads as consumer habits change and demand wanes. Sainsbury’s posted a huge £137 million half-year loss despite a 117% spike in online sales. Many supermarkets benefited from the panic buying seen in March but for Sainsbury’s, this did little to offset losses in other areas. Sainsbury’s will phase out the jobs over a period of time, with the 420 Argos stores shutting by March 2024.  

In spite of these cuts, Sainsbury’s will add 6000 jobs by the end of 2020. 150 Argos outlets in its supermarkets will be opened by 2024 and up to 200 additional Argos collection points. Sainsbury’s bought Argos in 2016 for £1.4 billion.

9. TRAINLINE LOSSES

Train ticket app Trainline posted a £43 million loss in its latest half year results due to a severe decline in passenger journeys. Sales crashed 81% in the half year to August due to coronavirus restrictions. Passengers could only make essential journeys in the spring but even as restrictions lifted in the summer, rail journeys did not increase massively. Between March and June, sales hit just £31 million. Despite the poor revenue, Trainline is confident it has enough cash to weather the storm.

The rail industry like all the travel industry has been decimated by the pandemic. Between April and June rail travel fell to its lowest levels since the 1800’s. With a lockdown until December and restrictions lasting until the new year, it is likely that the woes for the industry will continue.

10. BEZOS SELLS $3BN IN AMAZON SHARES

Jeff Bezos has sold off $3 billion worth of Amazon stock. The Amazon CEO has sold a total of $10.2 billion in stock in 2020 alone. Bezos says he sells $1 billion of stock per year to finance Blue Origin, his space exploration programme. All of Bezo’s sales are pre-planned under a 10b5-1 trading plan. A 10b5-1 allows executives to avoid accusations of insider trading. The sale or purchase of stocks is planned well in advance to ensure executives aren’t using inside information when trading their own stocks. Jeff Bezos is still the world’s richest man and he currently holds $170 billion worth of Amazon stock.

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